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A shrinking club


Political "scorecard" shows just how extreme the conservative movement has become

America has always had a full complement of "conservatives" of varying stripes. Comfortable suburbanites and dirt poor farmers, religious fundamentalists and libertarian freethinkers, ideologues who don't believe in government at all and respectable establishment types who view public office as their birthright, single issue fanatics and sober pragmatists, immigrant haters and immigrant hirers.

Today, it appears, we are in the midst of a new shakeout on the ideological right. As economic and social fundamentalists have gained more and more prominence and power, the number of traditional conservatives – middle and upper-middle class burghers who feel duty-bound to help make public institutions work for everyone – is on the wane.

Compare and contrast, for instance, the conservative leaders of today with those of two or three decades ago. Look at the current crop of national conservative leaders – Sarah Palin, John Boehner, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh – and line them up against those of the 1970's and 80's like Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and even Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush. By just about any measuring stick, the new crop is clearly more rigid and ideological and less interested in governing and service.

Even in North Carolina, the home of Jesse Helms – one of the godfathers of what might be called the "anti-governing movement" – this shift is evident. During Helms' heyday, North Carolina conservatives also included relatively moderate figures like Holshouser, Martin and Broyhill. Not anymore. Today's conservative leadership has been almost completely overrun by far right ideologues,

Foxx on the run

This new reality was on full-display this week in a rather remarkable email distributed by one of the members of this new wave of conservative leaders, Congresswoman Virginia Foxx. Not only does the email demonstrate just how loony much of the modern right has become, it also helps make clear just where a lot of this new and extreme ideological conformity comes from -namely the hand-in-glove relationship between people like Foxx and the far right PAC's and nonprofit think tanks that drive the movement.

In the email, the text of which is also posted as the lead story under the category "Foxx in the News" [2] on her campaign website, Foxx links the reader directly to a "Carolina Journal Exclusive" [3] from the website Carolina Journal Online. For those of you not familiar with the Carolina Journal, it is the newsletter of the John Locke Foundation. (Interestingly, the Foxx email makes no mention of the Locke connection.)

In the article – sorry, "Exclusive" – one of the Locke staffers (a person who has written multiple articles for the certifiably insane World Net Daily [4]), "reports" that Foxx and her ideological partner, Senator Richard Burr, have scored high on a "pro-growth scorecard." Here's the lead from the faux news piece:

"RALEIGH – A Washington-based group advocating limited government has ranked North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx and Sen. Richard Burr, both Republicans, in its top tier of fiscally conservative lawmakers in 2009.

The Club for Growth's latest congressional scorecard [5], released Monday, gave perfect marks to nine representatives and six senators on issues such as tax reform, free trade, and deregulation. Foxx garnered 100 percent on the report and Burr 96 percent.

It's the second time in as many years that Foxx, who hails from the strongly Republican 5th Congressional District, has earned a perfect ranking from the group. Burr's counterpart, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, earned 6 percent on the scorecard."

The "Exclusive" goes on to take a few gratuitous potshots at some of the state's Democratic congressmen by attacking, without any real explanation or analysis, some alleged pork barrel spending that it attributes to them.

Reality check

While little that Raleigh's right-wing think tank/political machine and its favored politicians do really comes as much of a surprise anymore, there's still something noxious and noteworthy about this little missive.

The noxious part is mostly in the transparency of the whole thing. It's one thing for a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank to attack or "report" on politicians with whom they disagree, to rev up their friends and supporters to mobilize to become engaged in the political process, or even for its employees to be active in political campaigns in their private lives. It's another, however, for the think tank to manufacture faux news about a partisan group's endorsement of a politician and then package and distribute that partisan group's ratings as "exclusive" news. Moreover, when that "news" is then immediately repackaged and distributed by the candidate herself, the whole thing just smells bad.

Happily, the more noteworthy part of the story is in what it says about the state of the "conservative" movement. The "scorecard" touted in the "exclusive" is from a national far right, market fundamentalist group called the Club for Growth [6]. This is the same organization that, among other things, maintains a "Power Ranking" chart [7] in which its members rate and rank all 535 U.S. Senators and Representatives on a daily basis for their supposed loyalty to the conservative cause. For some time now, the highest ranked member of the House of Representatives is the rabidly combative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota [8]. This is the same lawmaker who has urged citizens not to participate in the Census and who has made the following statements in recent years:

"I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out under another, then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter. I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence."

"Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn't even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas."

"This is probably the biggest issue [gay marriage] that will impact our state and our nation in the last, at least, thirty years. I am not understating that."

In short, Bachmann is nuts and the poster child for the modern, dangerously uninformed, fear mongering, tea partying right. She neither cares nor has any meaningful capacity to help govern the country. She is Ann Coulter with a vote – a destructive force interested in little more than ginning up people's worst fears and instincts to her own advantage. Say what they will about her voting record, but if she is the quintessential modern conservative – the person that Virginia Foxx and her deep-pocketed think tanker friends and allies seek to emulate – then there really is a profound shakeout afoot in the conservative movement.

The good news for thinking and caring people is that, like most hard-line ideological purges, such a shakeout is, in the long run, almost certain to leave behind a "club" that's shrinking rather than growing.