Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Conservative Grift Is a Feature, Not a Bug


Working for Fox News while kinda sorta running for president works for Mike.
Ask Sarah Palin. She started with the Wasilla PTA, and would you look at her now?


As I eyed the crazy ride of Glenn Beck from backwater DJ to Fox News political philosopher king of comedy -- what else was his show? -- I knew something was fishy. Then when I noticed one of his biggest sponsors was a gold vendor, I connected the dots. Drive the conservatives into a frenzy of fear, and the gold bugs would deliver the gold to the gold vendor, who would pass it on to Beck. Nice work if you can get it.

Sarah Palin worked the same room. Now it turns out that Mike Huckabee sells cancer cures from the Bible on the side. What does all this have in common? It's simple: Get all the conservatives in the same room -- er, I mean the same mailing list -- and after you've sold them on the evils of liberalism and unions, sell them snake oil on the side. It's nothing new. It's been succeeding for decades.

The ultimate primer on this scam was published yesterday in the Washington Post, in the form of a lengthy exposé by The Plum Line's Paul Waldman. If you're an aspiring political flim-flam man, it's required reading. A taste:
For the most part, the bigger and more elite PACs Hawkins looked at are the ones that spent money in the way they said they were going to; for instance, Club for Growth Action spent 88 percent of its contributions on candidates. On the other end, the Tea Party Express spent only 5 percent of its contributions on candidates; Hawkins even found a couple of smaller PACs that spent nothing at all on candidates.
This particular con is just one variant of a wider system, one that has been in operation for decades. While there may be some cases of similar scams on the left, they’re absolutely rampant on the right, because they’ve been so central to the conservative movement for so long. In the 1960s, conservatives realized that the nationwide grassroots network that activists built to support Barry Goldwater could be an ongoing source of funds, not only for conservative causes but for people wanting to sell snake oil. Lists of names and addresses became a valued commodity, built, bought and sold again and again for the benefit of those who controlled them and those who used them (Rick Perlstein lays out that history here).
That tradition continues, but in new and more complicated ways that I like to call the circle of scam. Organizations like the Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks pay radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity big money to offer on-air endorsements that are the radio equivalent of “native advertising.” Future presidential candidate Mike Huckabee sells his email list on “miracle cancer cures” hidden in the Bible. Conservative media figures like Dick Morris solicit contributions that somehow are never turned to the political ends they claim. Nobody wants to upend the system, because too many people are getting a taste.
The common thread can be found in the marks: the little old lady in Tupelo who sends in $50 thinking that she’s striking a blow against Barack Obama, the couple in Topeka who hopes Mike Huckabee’s biblical cancer cure can save their daughter’s life, the man in Toledo who thinks that the group with “Tea Party” in its name is going to have an impact on his state’s races. What none of them know is that their money is just going to make somebody who’s already rich a little bit richer.
Read the whole Waldman piece if you've got the stomach. Then read all the links in the article, though the best ones are in the above excerpt.

I knew this, generally, already, but this in-depth look at the grift was startling. Now I totally get how Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Dick Morris -- and the rest of the legions of con men big and small -- have careers with serious legs. They were welcomed into the scam because it was their forté to begin with. It's in their DNA. The early work came out of the exploitation of the Goldwater conservatives. It's where the Koch brothers' father built his early political capital, with the John Birch Society. Take communist hysteria, whip up the fringe and take their money. Wow. It really works when you build a political movement on mailing lists, then slowly introduce the side cons. And, in recent years, Citizens United opened up the floodgates. Heaven help us all.

No wonder Dick Morris is happy. He's in the club. Don't worry, he was born that way.

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