I missed this when it came out. David Brock, has a column at the Daily Beast in the beginning of January, The Coming Obama Wars. David Brock was part of the right-wing team that took on the task of taking down Anita Hill and Bill Clinton, (and since leaving the conservative movement and founding Media Matters). So it’s very interesting to read his thought on where the right-wing attack machine stands today, and it might help us understand the relentless and yet well-timed assaults on Planned Parenthood, NPR, etc.
The most fascinating parts of it explain that the rogue parts of the conservative network that they had to assemble in real-time are the actual core of the Republican Party communication strategy right now. I’d recommend reading all of it, but this part is worth reprinting at length:
My answer: this go-around will be much worse. The blow of the coming investigations and accompanying vitriol will be faster, harder, and the political devastation more acutely and widely felt in the Democratic Party than the impeachment of President Clinton.
I’m struck by how little we have learned from the political traumas of the ’90s. The anti-Clinton craziness had nothing to do with the Clintons; it had to do, now as then, with fear of progressive governance. Now as then, outrage will be fabricated at the slightest provocation and scandals will be doggedly pursued even after they are factually refuted.
Far from a maverick, on Day One Issa had secured the full-throated support of his leadership and caucus—he describes John Boehner as a “mentor”—that took Keystone Kops investigators in the ’90s years to win, overcoming Newt Gingrich’s initial disinterest in scandal politics.
Issa smartly has chosen to frame his inquiries in support of the overarching anti-government GOP message—as an ideological indictment of alleged government malfeasance, not personal wrongdoing. He has spent months softening up the mainstream media—witness the spate of profiles recasting him as “Washington’s whistleblower” that suggest a triumph of branding. And he has assiduously worked influential watchdogs like the Center for Public Integrity, which honored Issa as the sole elected official who spoke at the group’s 20th anniversary dinner in October….
Such flip-flops indicate trouble ahead as Issa navigates the cross-pressures of tending to his Beltway image while feeding his bloodthirsty base.
In fact, Issa won’t have much choice but to relinquish the former for the latter or else lose control of the effort to a newly entrenched scandal-complex led by central players in the Clinton years: Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey reprising their roles, only now as prominent well-funded outside agitators. (By contrast, we launched the initial anti-Clinton salvos from obscure platforms like The American Spectator, with little mainline conservative support).
Gingrich, who recently wrote, “The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did,” heads American Solutions, whose mission is “to save American civilization from the gravest crisis it has confronted since the Civil War.” Armey’s FreedomWorks orchestrated the 2009 Tea Party town hall protests which included members of Congress being shouted down and hanged in effigy and is largely funded by the Koch brothers, the oil and gas magnates who seem to have stepped into the role of Richard Mellon Scaife – the Daddy Warbucks of the Clinton Wars—as the new financial backers of the right. Karl Rove’s new attack machine, American Crossroads, controls tens of millions of corporate money. Then there is Dick Morris, who, following a prostitution scandal, has trained his website, books, Fox TV appearances and PACs on Obama, saying he “might be the first anti-American president we’ve ever had” and issuing approving statements about the seditious activities of burgeoning militia groups.
None of these four hold elective office, they have nothing to lose. Their funding drawn from the far right of the conservative movement, they have incentives to perpetually escalate their rhetoric. They will do or say anything to call into question the legitimacy of the president—and their steady drumbeat can only force Issa’s brigade to proceed down that course…
The investigations will play out against a backdrop of not only a more anxious and radicalized Republican presidential primary electorate but a very different field of candidates. In 1996, GOP standard bearers Bob Dole and Jack Kemp never practiced a politics of gross misrepresentation and character assassination. The same can’t be said of Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum or Sarah Palin, who infamously posted a map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election in the last cycle; those Democrats, including Gabrielle Giffords, were denoted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun.
But nothing may be more important in the next two years than the centrality of Fox News, which did not exist in the early Clinton years and first became a political force in the 2000 elections. I well remember the cognoscenti scoffing when the Clinton White House produced a document accurately showing how right-wing forces in the U.S. used the British press to launder scandal stories that would then wash up on American shores. No such ingenuity will be required this time around….
Look for the tail to wag the dog as Fox ends up setting the strategies and storylines of the inquisitors. I have no doubt that now, as before, articles of impeachment will be filed—that’s what happens to egregiously “corrupt” administrations—and they will be believed by a substantial sector of the public regardless of merit. Whereas it was well into 1997 until a credible conservative like Robert Bork provocatively floated the notion of impeachment, the term is being casually tossed around on cable news now before a hearing even opens.
Now as then, my logic-minded fellow Democrats will figure the hearings can do no real harm because “there is no there there.” They won’t comprehend the emotional punch of the televised anti-government Fox show trials.
I just recently read Blinded by the Right, his book about working in the right-wing infrastructure in the 1990s, and what is telling from it compared to now – and it’s what the article above is about – is how institutionalized the mechanisms they had to pioneer to attack Anita Hill and impeach Clinton have become. The leadership didn’t like them, they had to be quiet in organizing and connecting right-wingers, their media presence had a hostile relationship with both mainstream and mainstream right.
Now it’s flipped. You can almost hear about Brock is saying his generation of right-wing attack dogs ginned up controversy when it was DIY punk (“right-wing forces in the U.S. used the British press to launder scandal stories…” as if he was sending his demo tape to NME) but now it’s all mainstream and corporate. O’Keefe has a huge distributive network of conservatives and right-wing scandal outlets in which to build a narrative that everyone else has to go against the current to debunk. And so will all future scandals until we actually get to admitting that these aren’t newsworthy. Indeed without the heavy editing they don’t even seem like scandals.