August 5, 2012
Politics is an ugly business, the saying goes, and one aspect of that ugliness are the votes a devoted activist must cast for a candidate he doesn't much like. Take candidate Mitt Romney, for instance. But if the big-money donors of the right have anything to say about, those right-wing voters will be turning out for Mitt Romney on election day.
At a conference staged by David Koch's Americans For Prosperity Foundation, Tea Party activists from around the country gathered in Washington, D.C. last weekend to hear famous right-wingers harangue President Barack Obama, and to learn what part they can play in securing the president's defeat. This year, the anti-Obama rhetoric was typically sharp, while mentions of the Republican presidential candidate were few and far between.
As Stephen Moore
, columnist and member of the Wall Street Journal
editorial board, told a roomful of activists at a breakout session: "I'm not here to promote Mitt Romney; I think he's fine -- I don't think he's the world's greatest, most charismatic candidate...But I do think that this is such a critical, critical election...And none of us want to wake up on November 5th and think that we didn't do everything that we could to make sure that the community organizer goes back to community organizing."
It was a sentiment echoed by activists from around the country. Ken Aschenbrenner, a petrochemical salesman, rode a bus up from North Carolina, which is often described as a battleground state. I noted that the conference attendees didn't seem to be enthusiastic about Romney.
"No, they're not," he said. "And I'll be honest: he was not my first choice during the primary. However, he is who we have now, and we have to stand behind him. This election is not about electing Mitt Romney; it's about getting President Obama out and saving our country -- and recapturing our country."
Aschenbrenner, who is tall and thin, with a open face, would have preferred former U.S. senator Rick Santorum or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, both of whom sought to link Obama with encouraging dependence on the federal government, for a presidential candidate. Their candidacies may be over, but their words live on. A complaint heard more than once from the podiums at the conference was the administration's efforts to educate people on their eligibility for government assistance, especially food stamps.
Radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham complained that the president and his allies were trying to get Americans to sign on to "a declaration of dependence." "Food stamps, in this mindset, are not temporary help for the truly needy," she said, "food stamps are an economic stimulus."
The point wasn't lost on the activist. "I feel that the government is holding people down, and keeping them from what they need to do to get our economy going," Aschenbrenner said. "Because when's the last time you ever got a job from a poor person?"
But what's done is done, and asked if he'll be working hard to turn out the vote for Romney, the North Carolinian replied, "Oh, absolutely."
With a lackluster candidate in Mitt Romney, the right has little on which to drive the 2012 vote other than fear, loathing and outright hatred of Obama. So the conference line-up offered plenty of red meat from the main stage. Ingraham accused First Lady Michelle Obama of going to London, where she's been representing the U.S. at the Olympics, to collect "a gold medal in shameless self-promotion."
Radio talker Mark Levin invoked the specter of dark conspiracies, reprising the tropes about Obama as a man surrounded by "left-wing malcontents" and terrorists. Apparently unable to bring himself to say Romney's name, he chided "the Republican nominee" for "taking off the table" campaign narratives about former Weather Underground member William Ayers, or the Obamas' former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. "Nothing's off the table!" he shouted.
Conference-goers were treated to a trailer to the forthcoming film, "Atlas Shrugged Part II" that opens with a notice about a seemingly sinister health-care law and the introduction of a faceless "head of state" whose voice suddenly winds down when a second voice cuts in, saying, "Mr. Thompson will not be talking to you today. His time is up."
But the most virulent attack was delivered at the Friday night gala by Michelle Malkin, the blogging entrepreneur and Fox News analyist, who strode up to the podium to the strains of Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman," and delivered a perfect pot of venom. Obama and his administration were examples of "tyranny," she said, especially for the Consumer Safety Products Commission against the manufacturer of Bucky Balls, sets of ball-shaped magnets designed as desk toys for adults. Apparently, they have been getting into children's mouths, and 22 such episodes prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to file a complaint with the CSPS. Malkin, of course, offered none of the backstory about real children being injured by the product, failing to mention the three-year-old who swallowed 37 magnets
, leading to surgery for perforated intestines.
Instead, Malkin made great hey of the product and its name, clicking a pair of magnets together in front of the microphone, saying, "America needs more balls."
She then veered into the populist right-wing trope that traces its roots back to Andrew Jackson, a narrative born of a philosophy that researcher Chip Berlet calls " producerism
." Malkin pared it down to the neat little rhyme that is its 21st-century manifestation: "the makers versus the takers." "Which side are you on?" she asked.
"And when are you going to stand up and fight back?" Malkin continued. "That's the message now from the people in this room to the people who are standing on the sidelines: Hold yourselves accountable. When they've got us by the balls, we've got to tell them to lay off. We've got to tell them to get their boots off our necks. We've to tell them to get their grubby fingers out of our pockets."
It is impossible to do Michelle Malkin justice in text, lacking the ability to convey the sneer-dripped tone in which every phrase is saturated.
At the conclusion of her rant, the Orbison song cranked up again, right at the part where he growls and says, "Mercy."