Hollywood is a tiresome place and sometimes enough is enough, and this was the day the real world of normal people had had enough of Lindsay Lohan – Los Angeles Superior Judge James Dabney sentenced her to ninety days in a “locked in” drug rehab facility as part of a plea deal to settle all sorts of criminal charges against her – which she didn’t fight. She knew she was a mess. She entered pleas of no contest on two misdemeanor charges relating to a traffic accident last summer out in Malibu – she actually had been driving that Porsche after all – and she didn’t challenge the finding that she violated her shoplifting probation. She knew she had. She’s a star so she doesn’t go to jail, at least this time, but the judge also suggested from now on she just not drive, which was not part of the sentence. It was just a suggestion. Some people just shouldn’t be behind the wheel, at least until they get it together and know what they’re doing. She seemed to agree.
Her father, Michael Lohan, said he was glad his little girl would get drug treatment in rehab, and not go to jail, but outside the courthouse started screaming at her lawyer, Mark Heller:
“I want to know why are you’re still up here?” Michael Lohan shouted at Heller. “Go home, you’ve done enough damage. Leave my daughter alone and stay out of the press. You’re a parasite.”
Lohan said Heller “just wants to use my daughter as way to get his name in the papers.”
It was just another day in Hollywood, but then the same sort of thing was happening at the national level – with the part of Los Angeles Superior Judge James Dabney being played by Reince Priebus and the part of Lindsay Lohan being played by the current mess of a Republican Party. After McCain, and then Romney, and after failing to regain the Senate, and after deeply offending Hispanics and gays and blacks and women and the young and those who kind of like science, and many who work for a living rather getting rich through strategic investments and clever trading in odd investment instruments, and after the recent disastrous CPAC convention, the judge handed down the sentence that the guilty party knew they really couldn’t challenge:
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus presented a 100-page blueprint aimed at rebuilding his struggling GOP after a four-month analysis, and he delivered a particularly blistering assessment of the party’s problems appealing to women and minorities at the polls.
The plan called for Republicans to embrace comprehensive immigration reform, overhaul the party’s digital and research operations, and hold a shorter, more controlled presidential primary season. Priebus also announced a $10 million plan to dispatch GOP operatives to black, Latino and Asian American communities, which voted overwhelmingly to reelect President Obama.
“There’s no one reason we lost,” Priebus said of November’s elections, in which Democrats held the White House, kept control of the Senate and gained seats in the House. “Our message was weak, our ground game was insufficient, we weren’t inclusive, we were behind in both data and digital, and our primary and debate process needed improvement.”
Priebus added: “When Republicans lost in November, it was a wake-up call. We know that we have problems. We’ve identified them, and we’re implementing the solutions to fix them.”
Eric Cantor said the plan was a “fantastic job by all involved” and Newt Gingrich called it “historic” and the “first big step toward [a] GOP majority” – but it was a plan that basically said some shouldn’t drive, at least until they get it together and know what they’re doing. It didn’t really speak to policy, but it was a start. The first step is to recognize the problem:
The RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” report is the product of a listening tour by Priebus and several leading GOP strategists. “Focus groups described our party as ‘narrow-minded,’ ‘out of touch’ and ‘stuffy old men,’” Priebus said. “The perception that we’re the party of the rich continues to grow.”
No kidding – and this is where Jenny Beth Martin, head of the Tea Party Patriots, plays the part of Michael Lohan – “Americans and those in the Tea Party movement don’t need an ‘autopsy’ report from the Republican National Committee to know they failed to promote our principles, and lost because of it.” Michael Lohan said there was nothing all the wrong with his little girl, and Jenny Beth Martin said the same of the Tea Party. Everybody’s always butting in, and they’re all parasites.
Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo has the details of what’s going on here:
If you watched the Republican primaries and Mitt Romney’s general election campaign last year, the findings from the RNC’s study on why they lost the election are stunning. They’re the kinds of things that would have gotten you thrown out of the room in a GOP debate. They don’t come lightly either: The report was based on interviews with over 2,600 people as well as individual focus groups and polls with demographics like Hispanic voters and former Republicans. It was authored by Henry Barbour, Sally Bradshaw, Ari Fleischer, Zori Fonalledas, and Glenn McCall.
The suggestions are brutal, like maybe they should have passed immigration reform, like yesterday:
Normally the RNC’s focus is more on infrastructure and staff than policy, which is left to politicians to chart. But the party’s standing with Latino voters has gotten so dangerously low that the RNC’s report openly begs Republicans to change their position in defiance of the party’s own 2012 platform.
They also took a pointed dig at Romney’s self-deportation idea:
It’s worth stopping a moment to recognize what a huge leap this simple statement represents. The GOP platform, approved last August, rails against “amnesty,” demands “double-layered fencing” along the border, says that “state efforts to reduce illegal immigration must be encouraged,” pledges to “create humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily” (i.e. self-deportation), and declares that “federal funding should be denied to universities that provide in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens.”
There should be no more of that. Mitt, some people just shouldn’t drive, and of course they suggested listening to minorities, but that’s just arithmetic, although it might be hard to do:
Priebus recommended that the RNC regularly talk with not just conservative minority groups, but the most prominent organizations in minority communities, like the NAACP for African Americans and the National Council of La Raza for Hispanics. This, too, has been an issue in the past: President Bush avoided speaking at the NAACP until after Hurricane Katrina and conservative commentators have a long history of smearing NCLR as an extremist group.
Whether the latest effort will make a difference is an open question, but Priebus has signaled it will be a top priority. He’s already committed $10 million to minority outreach as an initial display of his seriousness.
And gays aren’t going away either. Priebus went out of his way to praise Rob Portman for “making some pretty big inroads” – because Portman said gays might be okay and deserve rights, as his son is gay and now it’s personal. And then there’s the matter of epistemic closure:
There’s been a long running debate on the intellectual right about whether the GOP suffers from “epistemic closure,” a condition in which conservatives block out all dissenting voices until eventually their own arguments sound nonsensical to anyone who doesn’t already agree with them. The RNC report concludes this is a real and growing problem.
“The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself,” its authors write. “We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue. Instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac, we need a Party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us.”
As if the suggestion that Republicans are close-minded isn’t wading into delicate enough territory, the same section suggests that the party’s obsessive focus on Ronald Reagan may be harmful as well.
“Ronald Reagan is a Republican hero and role model who was first elected 33 years ago – meaning no one under the age of 51 today was old enough to vote for Reagan when he first ran for President,” it reads. It approvingly quotes columnists Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner, who wrote last month, “It is no wonder that Republican policies can seem stale; they are very nearly identical to those offered up by the Party more than 30 years ago.”
That’s sacrilege, but it had to be said – the idea is to look at current Republican governors and the new rising stars, not old dead guys – oh, and by the way, stop being the rich guys:
Less than year after nominating a millionaire investor who proclaimed that “corporations are people,” the RNC is concerned that the party has become too closely tied with wealthy interests.
“We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare,” the report says. “We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years.”
Those are the major points, and no one expected this, and some didn’t like it much, and some, like Ben Smith at Politico, heard echoes of George W. Bush:
Compassionate conservatism was, indisputably, political genius. To its critics, it was cynicism – conservatism with, as The New Republic snarked at the time, “hugs for poor people.” To its backers, it had an under-recognized impact on President George W. Bush’s policy, driving efforts to fight AIDS in Africa and poverty at home, often by steering federal funds to religious charities. The vision’s most recent standard-bearer was probably former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, whose 2008 campaign demonstrated a clear appeal to his party despite fierce attacks as “big government conservatism,” but it had essentially vanished by the 2012 campaign.
The first section of the new report states the problem: “Some people say, ‘Republicans don’t care.’” It quotes the father of compassionate conservatism – in the sense of a vision that is very conservative; and also genuinely focused on the problems of the poor -Jack Kemp. And the report, in the spirit of Kemp – and unlike either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama in 2012 – uses the p-word: poverty.
“If we are going to grow as a Party, our policies and actions must take into account that the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our citizens live in poverty,” it says. “To people who are flat on their back, unemployed or disabled and in need of help, they do not care if the help comes from the private sector or the government – they just want help.”
That’s also sacrilege. If you believe the government is always the problem and never the solution, but there it is – compassionate conservatism, Bush-style:
And at its core, the report is a glimpse of the party Karl Rove and George W. Bush, assisted by figures like Fleischer and Gerson, sought to create starting in the late 1990s. This was the party in which George W. Bush was elected, but one whose message shifted dramatically on Sept. 11, 2001. From there, Bush ran almost exclusively as a national security president, and by the time he began pitching elements of Social Security privatization in his second term, the move was a non-sequitur and came with none of the halo of compassion of the earlier Bush years.
The Tea Party represented a wing of the party – which included some, but certainly not all, of Bush’s own aides – who saw the ostentatious push for “compassion” as a veneer over policies that ought to, they thought, triumph on the merits; and who believed that the contrast with President Barack Obama meant that the veneer was no longer needed. Romney’s private suggestion of a class war between 53% of makers and 47% of takers in the American economy represented a particularly pure version of that.
Now the Republican National Committee is returning to Bush’s original vision.
Maybe so, but compassionate conservatism was always what chemists would call an unstable compound – at room-temperature it disappears in a puff of acrid smoke. And Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs is not impressed:
Call me a cynic, but my reading of the report reveals the same old same old: lots of angst about “messaging” and “reaching out to minorities,” and absolutely no awareness that it’s Republican policies that are the problem, not the way they’re “framing” them. Bottom line: the RNC report is a set of recommendations on how to better trick voters into supporting the GOP, even as the GOP continues to work against their interests.
Johnson then points to this:
“Question about CPAC last week, where a panel on African American voters dissolved into a shouting match with at least one activist saying that – sorry, hard to read the question – talking about voters being systematically disenfranchised. How, given that sort of backdrop in the party, do you plan to overcome those challenges in your role at the RNC?” National Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane asked Priebus at an event on the RNC’s roadmap ahead after the 2012 elections.
Priebus responded to the question by saying the RNC plans to hire hundreds of paid staffers to reach out to minority communities across the country.
“For one thing, you have to show up, right?” he said. “I mean, if you’re going to get the order, you have to ask for the sale. I mean, that’s just sort of basic. Which is why we’re launching this unprecedented effort to bring in – I’m not talking about hiring two or three people down the hallway at the RNC – what we’re talking about is hiring hundreds of paid people across the country this year to make the case in minority communities across America.”
Priebus seems to think the only response needed is to pay people to go out and promote the GOP to “minority communities” – but he completely ignored the question. And there you have the GOP’s problem in a nutshell. They believe they can fix things by just hiring more PR shills, but can’t even be bothered to address a real incident of very real, very ugly racism, at the premier right wing conference.
On CBS today, Priebus said, “We’ve done a really lousy job of branding and marketing who we are.”
I have to disagree. With “death panels” and “self-deportation” and forced vaginal ultrasounds and insane comments about “legitimate rape” and creationism and climate change denial, the Republican Party has done an absolutely smashing job of demonstrating exactly who they are. The best marketing in the world isn’t going to help you if your product sucks.
Politico’s Maggie Haberman noted this too:
Other suggestions are likely to meet with some chuckles, such as one related to doing better with younger voters: “Establish an RNC Celebrity Task Force of personalities in the entertainment industry to host events for the RNC and allow donors to participate in entertainment events as a way to attract younger voters.”
It was only a few months ago that the party repeatedly hit Obama for fundraising with celebrities.
Yeah, and what celebrities are we talking about, Donald Trump and Ted Nugent? Lindsay Lohan is currently not available.
It doesn’t matter, as Greg Sargent points out:
Only a few hours later, it is now clear that some Republicans will do all they can to block Obama’s first Latino pick for his second-term cabinet – and the right is gearing up for a campaign against him that will make the effort to block Chuck Hagel look like a knitting seminar. Given Thomas Perez’s background as the son of Dominican immigrants, plus his role running the Justice Department’s civil rights division, this isn’t going to make the RNC’s “outreach” to Latinos any easier.
Senator David Vitter announced today that he will put a “hold” on Obama’s nomination of Thomas Perez as labor secretary, partly on the grounds of his work on … the New Black Panther case. Other Republican Senators plan to paint Perez as a “radical legal activist” who has “tried to help illegal immigrants avoid detection,” as the New York Times puts it.
To be clear, it is fair game for Republicans to use the nomination process to ask legitimate questions about a nominee, and to raise substantive objections to that nominee. But if the attacks on Perez veer into the lurid and racially charged, it will be very interesting to see how Republicans who agree with the RNC’s analysis of the GOP’s problems handle it.
Conservatives hate Perez’s record at the civil rights division, and Sargent cites Adam Serwer on that:
Since Perez took the helm, the division has blocked partisan voting schemes, cracked down on police brutality, protected gay and lesbian students from harassment, sued anti-immigrant Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio for racial profiling, stood up against Islamophobia, and forced the two largest fair-housing settlements in history from banks that discriminated against minority homeowners.
Conservatives are already signaling that they are going to tee off Perez’s record to go the lurid and racially charged route. Michele Malkin, for instance, dismissed Perez as “Obama’s nominee for secretary of (illegal alien) labor.” Rush Limbaugh says: “He is the guy in the Department of Justice in the civil rights division who made the call not to prosecute the New Black Panthers,” adding: “He may as well be Hugh Chavez.”
Remember, there’s precedent here. When Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latina Supreme Court justice, some conservatives and Republicans denounced her as “little more than an affirmative action hire,” as Jamelle Bouie put it, and even attacked her for her membership in a Latino civil rights organization, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund, claiming it had been tied to ACORN. This may well have been one of the factors that led to Mitt Romney’s historic losing margin among Latinos.
Now that the confirmation process for another highly regarded Latino is set to unfold, the right will be rolling out a similar sounding set of attacks – extremist, radical, secret agent for illegal immigrants under the guise of civil rights – and possibly even some of its favorite racially charged golden oldies from Obama’s first term.
Some things never change. Lindsay Lohan will do her ninety days locked up in rehab, and then get stoned and crash her next Porsche into some poor local’s Chevy down on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu – again. Here the current Republicans were told some folks just should not drive, until they get it together, and the current Republicans immediately drove off the cliff.
Michael Steele had Reince Priebus’ job before him, and said this:
“I don’t agree with the idea of blocking him, number one,” Steele told BuzzFeed. “I’ve known Tom Perez a long time. He’s a solid man, good family man. He’s a dedicated public servant and there are so few of those these days.”
While Steele said he and Perez “disagree on some issues philosophically,” he called on his fellow Republicans to confirm him. “Tom is a very passionate guy like I am. He believes in the idea of public service and the president recognizes that and has said he’s going to be a strong voice for the workers of this country as he was for the workers of Maryland as our labor secretary,” he said. “I think a lot of people want you to put on that partisan hat and chew him a new one, but for what purpose? He’s been good at his job and he’s been faithful to the oath that he swore.”
As you might recall, Michael Steele made the mistake of calling out Rush Limbaugh – he said Limbaugh was no more than an entertainer, and that Limbaugh was always saying ugly and incendiary things. Steele crossed a line there – and there was a bit of a racial thing too. Steele, being black, was being uppity, and he did apologize for ever questioning what Limbaugh said, and he’d never do that again – but the damage was done. Steele was voted out as RNC Chairman and Reince Priebus was voted in. Steele lost his driver’s license.
This is tiresome and enough is enough. Lindsay Lohan is a mess, and she knows it, but there’s little hope she will turn her life around. There’s less hope for the Republicans, as it does seem to be true that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.