How ACORN Stole the 2012 Election

NYRB‘s Mark Danner has a nice retrospective on the election (remember that?) that takes a view of the country both high and low. There’s a hefty dose of the What It All Means pontifications any election wrap-up inspires, if not needs; and there’s some good stuff from Danner’s experiences milling about the partisan crowds in the waning days of the contest. This bit in particular jumped out at me:

It is a peculiarity of this election that the Republicans embraced up until and indeed after the moment of voting a conviction that the entire public information and polling apparatus of the country, with a few exceptions, was lying. “All of it, the reporters, the commentators, all the damn so-called ‘news’—and the polls, especially the polls, you can’t trust any of it,” a retired businessman told me in early October at a Romney rally in Port St. Lucie, Florida. “I mean, who the hell are they talking to? Not any of us, certainly,” he said, sweeping his arm in an arc around him. And, turning away, “They’re all in the bag for Obama. Can’t believe a word of it.”

This was in the wake of the first debate, when Obama, faltering and shuffling about behind his podium with downturned eyes, had shown himself to be what they had always known he was: a myth and a fraud, a dark nightmare version of the tiny wizard quailing behind the immense Oz-like image built of him in 2008 and still sustained by the press and the commentariat and the grasping members of the 47 percent. “You saw what he really was, once you take away his teleprompter”—I heard this again and again from Romney supporters. Obama was a fake, a fabrication of the liberal media and of those who drew sustenance from the programs of dependency he distributed like so much candy.

To his credit Danner notes that the American hard-right has always believed, as a universal truth, in its own marginalization and oppression. You could trace it to the 1952 Republican convention, when Senator Robert Taft, a lonely but lionized conservative operating in the post-New Deal era of RINOs, lost the nomination to General Dwight Eisenhower. You could mark the starting date as Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, which is widely considered to be the genesis of today’s rightwing counter-establishment. Or you could go even farther back, to the Know Nothings of the mid-19th century. As Corey Robin would argue, these roots run deep (so ignore ahistorical pleas for a supposedly bygone era).

Reading Danner’s interactions with representatives of the contemporary right, I thought about this week’s Public Policy Polling release and its schadenfreude-y finding that 49 percent of Republicans believe the years-defunct ACORN stole the election for the president. That triggered a healthy dose of chuckling on the left, somewhat justifiably — or as justifiably as any of the petty post-election gloating can be. Still, if you read what Danner’s “retired businessman” has to say, or if you were following any of the rightwing blogs in the final weeks before November 6, the Republican base’s faith in a grand conspiracy is actually somewhat logical. Emphasis on somewhat.

The most rational conclusion to draw would be that the rightwing media is detached from reality. But if your identity is far too enmeshed with political conservatism to allow a split from MiniTruth, then the only possible explanation for the disparity between what you expected and what you received is fraud. And at that point who’s to say whether or not ACORN really disbanded?

@eliasisquith

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139 thoughts on “How ACORN Stole the 2012 Election

  1. Kevin Drum considers this part of the Fox News Effect. NewsCorp and other places have created a perfect sealed chamber that allows them to believe this stuff. Our own Tod Kelly noted how the 24/7 drumbeat of hysteria has created a frenzy for many non-scandals.

    http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/12/fox-news-effect-republicans-still-think-acorn-alive-and-stealing-elections

    And as I have mentioned before, Richard Hofstatder’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics is probably the smartest and most insightful essay ever written about the American political system. Everything Hofstatder wrote then can apply to the right today. There has always been a sizeable minority of the American right that is outright nuts. They see themselves as the only defenders of freedom and values. Keep in mind that I have no idea what they mean by freedom but it is certainly not anything that comes to my mind when thinking about the word.

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    • David Frum had commentary on it barely a year ago:

      http://nymag.com/news/politics/conservatives-david-frum-2011-11/

      But the thought leaders on talk radio and Fox do more than shape opinion. Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama—whatever his policy ­errors—is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he’s a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action ­phony doomed to inevitable defeat. Outside the system, social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world, in which the children of the poor have less chance of escape than in France, Germany, or even England. Inside the system, the U.S. remains (to borrow the words of Senator Marco Rubio) “the only place in the world where it doesn’t matter who your parents were or where you came from.”

      We used to say “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” Now we are all entitled to our own facts, and conservative media use this right to immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information.

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      • I read this last year as well. Frum is an interesting guy. He is certainly conservative in many ways to the core. I doubt we would believe in the same policies to solve problems but he certainly understands what is going on the right and that it is not good.

        Or as TNC says: Liberals have a media, conservatives have a press office (paraphrase).

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      • TVD and at least one other regular poster here were questioning the very validity of polling the week before the election. (As well as making some truly amusing claims about statistics, even if I doubt they saw it that way).

        But what struck me wasn’t polling denialism — it was TVD’s firm, fervent belief that Benghazi was gonna bring down the President even if he won. It was a coverup and a scandal and god knows what else (he didn’t commit, just linked to people with paranoid theories and speculated that it was ‘bigger than liberals thought’).

        Like Fast and Furious was. Like Solyandra was. Each and every scandal is the one that WILL bring down the President, even if no one outside of Fox has even heard of it.

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  2. I doubt “ACORN” stole the election, but Bertha Lewis says they are stronger than ever under new names. The Root interview might be a rightwing fabrication, though.

    The Root: After ACORN disbanded, many chapters reorganized under new names. How are they faring a year later?

    Bertha Lewis: There are 18 independent organizations around the country. Some of the old ACORN chapters were combined, with several states becoming one entity. We learned great lessons from our tribulations, and we decided that organizing by any other name is still organizing. The former chapters and their boards incorporated themselves, renamed themselves and made sure that the reforms I had been putting in place around structure, financial management and operations were carried on. I’m happy to say that they’re very strong, and we’re in about 25 states.

    Glenn Beck and the conservative right actually helped us create 18 bulletproof community-organizing Frankensteins that they’re going to have a very hard time attacking. We owned up to what our weaknesses were, we were realistic about our strengths, and so these new entities are carrying on ACORN’s work of organizing low- and moderate-income folks. Thank you very much, Rush Limbaugh.

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    • There’s one thing I just don’t understand: what’s wrong, what’s fraudulent, about organizing low and moderate income folk?

      That seems the root of the accusations of racism Republicans get the left; the perception that the right deems organizing those folk a fraud; that they’re not entitled to vote. Combined with the knowledge that many black/hispanic voters are low income and the notion that Republican efforts to restrict voting rights with things like ID requirements fall heavily on minority voters, it does seem to add up to racism.

      It feels to me, as a lefty, that the code has just switched for n-word to poor. Is there any other way to explain it? Because we’ve got fraud and election theft on the right, and voter disenfranchisement and racism on the left, all while describing the effort to get Americans to participate in the electoral process.

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    • Barack Obama’s GOTV campaign was far more sophisticated than the clunky old ACORN model. In this election Obama fielded a set of online tools called Dashboard.

      Team Obama beat the GOP all the way around the block before Rush Limbaugh could finish adjusting his neck tie in the morning. The GOP is, to put it plainly, incapable of adapting to social networking. They only understand one-way communications. Those days are gone forever.

      Housing reform goes on apace. It’s going on here in New Orleans under many different names. ACORN isn’t part of any of it. ACORN failed the accountability test long before Barack Obama even began to run for office. I knew who they were, back in Chicago, and thought something was sorta iffy about them.

      I don’t believe community organising or housing reform advocates should take sides in politics: it only opens their supporters up to charges of paying off friends, never a good place for any organisation to put its donors and/or supporters. Either run for office or get out of the community organising line of work. Let the politicians come to you, let them back your positions. Don’t back theirs. Voter registration drives aren’t outright support for a candidate: efforts of that sort are meant to get residents to vote for referendums affecting the community. No harm done there by my lights.

      The GOP hates community organising and voter registration drives. They do everything in their power to raise the barrier to the voting franchise. But it’s funny: within their own enclaves, they do attempt to register their own, often within churches and businesses. The GOP seems to focus on the ACORNs of this nation, precisely because that’s how they organise themselves.

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      • But it’s funny: within their own enclaves, they do attempt to register their own, often within churches and businesses.

        I’ve often thought the best window into how the GOP thinks and operates is the things they accuse liberals of doing. It’s hard to refrain from measuring others with your own yardstick.

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        • The GOP never really knew what hit them. I’m put in mind of that scene from Star Wars, Luke is flying toward the Death Star, everyone around him is getting shot to pieces, in the gritty flanged radio traffik we hear “Stay on Target!” They really hoped Romney would blow up Darth Obama’s Death Star, that somehow the Force would take over, that there would be a triumphal march at the end of an improbably heroic struggle.

          It doesn’t work that way in politics. There is no Staying On Target. Political parties are about winning elections, not preaching sermons. It’s only comparable to a war, covering ground, identifying allies and opponents. But mostly it’s about General Sherman’s adage, being firstest with the mostest, being nimbler and better informed.

          The GOP is not going to fix this problem any time soon. Their demographics are just awful. The GOP is trying to adapt but I just don’t see them making headway in urban demographics, where the votes are. It’s a simple matter of logistics, there’s more ground to cover in rural areas where the GOP is strongest.

          To win, the GOP will have to give up some dearly-beloved positions and make inroads in the Blue Cities. I just don’t see the GOP leadership (also in demographic trouble, dominated as it is by Old Crocodiles) making those changes. Even if they run Marco Rubio or someone young enough to bring some vitality to their positions, they’d have to back off their ignorant fearmongering and they just won’t get there.

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      • I don’t believe community organising or housing reform advocates should take sides in politics: it only opens their supporters up to charges of paying off friends, never a good place for any organisation to put its donors and/or supporters. Either run for office or get out of the community organising line of work. Let the politicians come to you, let them back your positions. Don’t back theirs. Voter registration drives aren’t outright support for a candidate: efforts of that sort are meant to get residents to vote for referendums affecting the community. No harm done there by my lights.

        +1

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          • Specifically – Increases in voter registration, combined with early voting, absentee voting, provisional voting, and the lack of an ID, all combine to increase the possibility of mistakes or fraud.

            Generally – For the reasons they say. If we can’t assume good faith on the part of our opponents, we’re in trouble.

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          • Specifically – Increases in voter registration without verification and without removal of previous addresses, combined with early voting, absentee voting, provisional voting, and the lack of an ID, all combine to increase the possibility of mistakes or fraud.

            Generally – For the reasons they say. If we can’t assume good faith on the part of our opponents, we’re in trouble.

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            • This problem should have been solved in 1995. It clearly isn’t solved. If we’re to assume good faith on the part of our opponents and recognise the problems inherent in fraud, why then are we still fighting this battle in Anno Domini 2012? The GOP has made its rhetorical bed very hard and must not complain overmuch if it is now made to lie down in that bed. The GOP has consistently demonstrated bad faith on this issue since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and continues to do so to this very day.

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              • The Republican Party championed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It implemented policies that had been in the Civil Rights Act of 1957 by Eisenhower, but were removed by Johnson in the Senate. In 1965, there were 19 votes against it in the Senate, 17 of those were Democrats. (In the House, both parties contributed relatively equally to the nay votes.)

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                • Republican candidates in the South were running on “states’ rights” coded racism starting in 1948. Their first full-on Southern Strategy campaign was 1968.

                  Reagan started his 1980 campaign by championing “States’ Rights” while standing on the graves of murdered Freedom Summer voter registration volunteers in Philadelphia, MS and then continued on to constantly vilify blacks during the rest of the campaign.

                  Charlie Crist rips his own party’s dishonesty about voter ID and the best you can come up with to describe a Republican former state governor is to call him “not the most Republican-friendly source.” Lawrence Wilkerson comes out and says “Let me just be candid: My party is full of racists, and the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander in chief and president, and everything to do with the color of his skin, and that’s despicable” and the howls echo from the right wing to have him expelled from the GOP.

                  Scott Walker, stooge in chief of the not-so-great state of Wisconsin, was in a public television debate with David Duke in 1992 and stated the Wisconsin GOP’s position on Duke’s racial supremacism, anti-semitism, and holocaust denial: “The distinction we’re making is not one of saying his issues are extreme, they certainly are not.”

                  And you have the utter gall to claim we are being unfair if we say we don’t think the GOP is being honest, or if we think there’s clear evidence the GOP are not just a little bit racist?

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                  • I can’t find that Scott Walker quote online. I’d love to see it in context.

                    States’ rights wasn’t code, at least for a large percentage of the people who advocated it. Assigning things to code is an act of bad faith. I’m telling you, if you want to have a serious discussion about issues, you’ve got to believe what people say about their own motivations. It doesn’t take utter gall to disagree with you – especially where you’re wrong.

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                    • States’ rights wasn’t code, at least for a large percentage of the people who advocated it.

                      You know, I can’t figure out a polite way to say this, but I feel it needs saying anyways.

                      You’re delusional.

                      “States’ Rights” was the name of the segregationist party that nominated Strom Thurmond for president.

                      When Reagan said “states’ rights”, he was absolutely advocating for racist policies, like stopping the IRS from withholding tax-exempt status from private schools that still practiced racial discrimination.

                      The same GOP members pushing “states’ rights” have recently brought back the completely unconstitutional “nullification doctrine” and disobedience of court orders (like the court orders that desegregated Southern schools), too. If that tells you anything at all.

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                    • And I will argue that weed needs to be taken care of as a matter of federal law for that reason.

                      Colorado “legalizing” weed isn’t really legalizing it, it’s still covered under the CSA. You want to truly legalize, you need to deal with the CSA. And no court in the land is going to argue that weed isn’t presently connected to interstate commerce enough for the federal government to claim jurisdiction.

                      “Nullification” is not valid.

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                    • I’m pretty sure that we hammered out that the definition of “Interstate Commerce” used by the federal government also covers “humping”.

                      As such, I’m willing to say that you do not have quite as much jurisdiction as you’re claiming.

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                    • Pinky, I just said that weed legalization would need to be handled at a federal level, Colorado law attempting to nullify it is invalid.

                      Article VI, Clause 2, and all that.

                      Please reread and understand that my name isn’t Jaybird…

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                    • So if I grow my own weed in Colorado, don’t sell it to anybody, and just smoke it myself can I challenge my subsequent arrest on the grounds that I’m not engaging in commerce, let alone interstate commerce?

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                    • MA – You’re right; I read that too quickly. Thanks for the link; I’d been searching for that particular quote, and I couldn’t find it. I also saw a couple of links to a youtube video that had been taken down. But I just watched the first part of the debate, and you really did take that quote badly out of context. Walker said that Duke was talking about legitimate issues, but had enumerated them earlier: welfare reform, job protection, job security. Not, as you said, racial supremacism, anti-semitism, and holocaust denial.

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                    • This was covered by Raich v. Ashcroft (which eventually became Gonzales v. Raich).

                      Since she presumably would have bought it on the black market if her friends didn’t give it to her for free (using California seeds, California dirt, California water, and California sunshine), it’s interstate commerce because her not buying it had an impact upon interstate commerce.

                      I am not making this up.

                      Which led us to ask “would engaging in sex be covered as well?” and we concluded that, yeah, technically. Since, presumably, you’d be buying it on the black market if you weren’t getting it for free, your *NOT* purchasing it is Interstate Commerce.

                      See also: Health Insurance.

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            • Vote disemfranchisement under the “guise” of removing those with previous addresses.
              Present and accounted for!

              Here stands one voter whose name was deliberately dropped from the rolls (had to call and bitch to get it back on, but Had To Know to know enough to call).

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  3. I consider myself politically aware and up-to-date on the news. I get my news from a variety of sources, most of which the likes of the gentleman from Port St. Lucie would accuse of being “in the bag for Obama.” NPR, NBC (note: it’s no longer MSNBC) and the other networks, the Gray Lady, the Fish Wrapper.

    But it was not until reading this post, this morning, that I was even aware that ACORN is not only defunct, but had been so for quite some time.

    So I now suspect that I flatter and delude myself when I call myself well-informed and politically aware. But more FOX News and the rest of the media of the right is obviously not the answer: so loud were the echoes from the Conservasphere’s Outrage Machine that even I, no longer a member of the Conservasphere, was distracted from reality by the anger, the repetition, the pointing and screeching. They were the source of the problem, the instruments if not the authors of the manipulation that resulted in my ignorance.

    I’ve learned a valuable lesson today.

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  4. The most rational conclusion to draw would be that the rightwing media is detached from reality.

    The more this goes on, the harder a time I have a agreeing with conclusions as decent as this one. The persistent and insistent belief that it isn’t Obama that’s beating them – that it couldn’t be THAT guy, that it has to be something else (ACORN or the “liberal” media or gifts or corruption)? There’s got to be more to it than simply the rightwing media’s very casual relationship with reality.

    I’ll give you an example – although I’m a goofy looking dude, I’ve played enough basketball to know how to be a competent player, and under the right conditions, I can score in bunches. I’m 32 but the local university has a Rec Center, so I play against college students, and if I get going, I’ll occasionally run into guys who refuse to respect that I’m beating them. My shots (all bank shots from 45 degrees) are lucky or bullshit or they weren’t really playing or they were drunk last night or whatever. It just can’t have been me that bettered them.

    So then, what’s the breaking point for Republicans? At what point do they realize that they’re losing to a guy who is better than their candidates? At what point do they acknowledge that maybe it’s Obama and not a complex series of churning conspiracies? Or does it simply never happen?

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    • “So then, what’s the breaking point for Republicans? At what point do they realize that they’re losing to a guy who is better than their candidates? At what point do they acknowledge that maybe it’s Obama and not a complex series of churning conspiracies? Or does it simply never happen?”

      I think it is going to get worse before it gets better. There is also the possibility of the Republican Party going the way of the dodo and being replaced by a center-right party and a far right party.

      About a quarter of the electorate will always be far-right extremists of the current mode. Right now they can assert a lot of influence in the GOP. John Judis notes that the Club for Growth is already trying to stack the deck against reasonable conservatives for questioning Orthodoxies. In a system with multiple parties, this 25 percent would only control a handful of seats and that is it.

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      • Only works if they lose the mid-terms.

        If those masses of low to moderate income voters don’t get out and vote in non-presidential elections, letting tea-party candidates continue to sweep up local, state, and house seats, the feedback loop won’t work properly.

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        • The feedback loop is locked into the House right now, sadly. Gerrymandered districting has left the House remarkably stable; only around 10 percent of the districts in the USA could be considered competitive.

          It’s not a coincidence that the GOP/TEA party went on a big push in the 2010 elections. They knew that districting was at stake and in many respects their goal was to take over as many state houses as possible in order to cement their margins via districting.

          They can’t win nationally, they can’t win many Senate races, but they can stuff as many Democrats into as few districts as possible and spread the remainder out into districts that become unwinnable. And before someone pipes up and screams – yes, Democrats have on occasion done this too, which is all the more reason to make it illegal and require nonpartisan algorithms rather than relying on partisan state legislatures to do districting.

          You don’t get rid of many of these people, no matter how hard you try. And it’s no coincidence that the worst-of-the-worst partisans come from the “safer” districts. They’re the districts that are decided in a primary, where appealing to the base at all costs is the priority because the primary winner knows they’ll barely have to campaign come time for the general election.

          I’ll remind you that last month, I abstained from three races on the ballot. All three consisted of the Republican nominee (GOP primary winner) and Libertarian nominee (actually the GOP primary loser, who the Libertarians nominated in a transparent bid to appear somehow relevant).

          That’s three races where the Democrats didn’t even bother to put up a candidate, because the district was such a lock. There are a few other races on the same ballot where the Democrat nominee probably was outspent 200 to 1, because no serious contender would even bother running in the district except to get name recognition for future elections.

          Noncompetitive elections screw up the system, and they’re what has made the House so unfortunately partisan. Nobody there is worried about winning in the general any more, it’s all about fending off a primary challenge from the knuckle-draggers.

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          • Despite the GOP gerrymandering, the technique backfired horribly at a national level. There are two ways to gerrymander: packing and cracking. Packing makes sure my district stays safe. Cracking dilutes your power. The GOP were too smart by half. In their attempt to Crack the safely Democratic districts, they inadvertently created situations where their supposed margins of victory weren’t safe enough.

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            • It was only an 8-seat switch, Blaise. They cemented their wins quite well with gerrymandering; they lost the national presidential election handily, lost out on every competitive Senate seat they could have possibly lost (including losing Olympia Snowe’s seat to an Independent), lost the popular vote in terms of House numbers, and yet translated that popular-vote loss into a 234-201 seat majority hold on the chamber.

              That’s gerrymandering at work, doing what it was designed to do: turn a losing vote into a “representative majority” illegitimately.

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              • Oh it was all quite legal, so we’re told. We seem stuck with this situation for a decade. But the GOP’s domination of the House is no longer that big a deal, strategically. Unless they can put their own judges on SCOTUS, they won’t be able to push much of their Conservative Agenda stuff.

                The House is a strange beast and getting stranger all the time. Look at all those dozens of motions to repeal ACA which went nowhere. SCOTUS eventually said most of the law was legal. The GOP can bluster and fret and make all sorts of meaningless gestures but unless they can get legislation passed or get it struck down in SCOTUS, it’s all so much fetid wind.

                And there’s the greed angle to consider. House members like to bring home the bacon. The House is full of fine upstanding people preaching the gospel of Fiscal Responsibility, as long as they’re in Washington. But if these Republicans send us over the fiscal cliff, they will go back to their districts to face lynch mobs.

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          • “which is all the more reason to make it illegal and require nonpartisan algorithms rather than relying on partisan state legislatures to do districting.”

            Passed and just re-affirmed here in Cali. One thing we did right!

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          • It’s not a coincidence that the GOP/TEA party went on a big push in the 2010 elections. They knew that districting was at stake and in many respects their goal was to take over as many state houses as possible in order to cement their margins via districting.

            As true as this is, in usual liberal fashion I will say that this was as much the fault of liberal activists who were throwing hissy fits than anything else.

            Voter turn-out from Democratic core constituencies was abyssmal in 2010, and part of it came from a lack of understanding the importance of census year elections.

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  5. I have to agree that the “right wing media” is detached. Of course, so is the “left wing media”. They are both echo chambers, and the false premise that reporters are not biased but are “professionals” still gives me chuckles. Right.

    Given that, I still support sided media. I’d rather have Fox News known for being a sided media establishment rather than trying to hide it like some of the “mainstream” media outlets do. You know what you getting there. Not so much other places, so the “BS” meter has to be working harder.

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    • I’d rather have Fox News known for being a sided media establishment rather than trying to hide it like some of the “mainstream” media outlets do.

      But, Fox doesn’t cop to being media that takes a side. They proudly call themselves “Fair and Balanced” after all. I don’t see how the fact that their bias is too obvious to hide makes their model less BS than what you are calling mainstream media outlets.

      Honestly, your position toward Fox News is more baffling to me than that of those in their audience who are ignorant of the network’s bias. I mean it’s one thing to get taken by a shyster when you are unaware that you’re being sold a bill of goods, it’s quite another to know what you’re getting is snake-oil and buying it anyway.

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      • I consider “Fair and Balanced” to be the equiv of “All the news that’s fit to print” or some other tagline. It’s clear that they are sided. This whole F&B thing is schtick, in my opinion. I’m sure it fools some folks, but those that are that easily fooled deserve it.

        I really don’t see why position is baffling. Foxed is biased, we both know that, whether they admit to it or not. If I watch them, and I do very infrequently, I already know the angle the stories will come from. That’s not the case for other media.

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      • Because people cannot escape their preconceptions, their background, their upbringing and associated notions. It’s too much a part of who they are. I’m fine with that. Just don’t lie to me or deceive yourself that you’re unbiased. Everyone has biases.

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  6. To feed in the right wing media echo chamber bullet point, here is Ann Coulter on Sean Hannity, trying to explain to Sean how temporarily raising taxes on the top 2% until the GOP wins back the Senate and Presidency in 2/4 years (LOLz) is the smart political thing.

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