The Right Wing

Meet Erick Erickson, the Toxic Idiot Guiding House Republicans on the Debt Ceiling Fight

The notably nasty CNN commentator claims Republican House members are really taking his advice to heart.

We're still hurtling toward economic disaster as House Republicans refuse to sign onto a debt ceiling deal that falls well to the right of what even GOP voters say they want. Given the stakes, it's hard to understand why would they walk away from a package of deep cuts without new tax revenues – a deal they could have only dreamed of getting a few short months ago.

The simplest explanation is that they're terrified of their Tea Party base, and aren't eager to be primaried from the right by some deep-pocketed neanderthal. But it's also about beating Obama next year. Donald Trump articulatedthe prevailing wisdom in GOP circles this week, telling Fox News, "When it comes time to default, they're not going to remember any of the Republicans' names. They are going to remember in history books one name, and that's Obama."

It has to be one of the dumbest claims made in recent weeks. According to the latest CNN poll, 52 percent of the public think Obama has “acted responsibly” on the debt ceiling, compared to just 33 percent who say the same of the GOP (PDF). And a new Rasmussen poll finds that just 6 percent of likely voters approve of Congress' performance -- a record low.

Where did such an ahistoric reading of American politics comes from? According to Erick Erickson, a notably dense but highly influential right-wing blogger – and no doubt the only regular CNN contributor to have called a sitting Supreme Court Justice a “goat fucking child molester” – it was none other than Erickson himself.

Erickson boasted on Twitter that a post he wrote was being passed around by GOP members of the House, who, again according to Erickson, were giving it plenty of credence. In an “open letter” to Congressional Republicans he wrote, “despite what the pundits in Washington are telling you, it is you and not Obama who hold most of the cards...Should the United States lose its bond rating, it will be called the 'Obama Depression.' Congress does not get pinned with this stuff.”

At first blush, it may come as a shock to see someone so brazenly putting the good of a political party above that of the country. But Erickson has carved out a place for himself in conservative circles by rigorously policing Republicans' ideological purity. As a 2008 Newsweek profile put it, “the party's right wing tends to distrust anyone who's too comfortable inside the Beltway, which is partly why Erickson ...has built such a following.” And he uses that following well – Newsweek notes he “has grabbed his party's power brokers by their elephant-stitched suspenders.” His star has only risen since then with the ascent of the Tea Partiers.

Erickson's an excellent self-promoter, and may be exaggerating his influence to some degree. But to whatever extent Republicans in Congress are in fact listening to him, it should be deeply troubling. Because whatever else he may be, Erickson's trademark is being wrong. And not just wrong as in "not entirely right" – if there were an Olympics or a World Cup of wrongness, other countries, eying his complete domination of the field, wouldn't even bother to compete. And it's not just his wildly wrong political analysis – he also brings habitual sexism, simmering racial animosities and love of violent political rhetoric to the table. This guy has quite the track record.

Skeptical that someone so wrong could end up an influential talking head on CNN? Well, let's look at a few of his greatest hits.

Erickson served on the City Council of Macon, Georgia. As the Tea Party caucus proves just about every day, people who hate government do a poor job governing, and Erickson was no exception. During his time in office he distinguished himself for calling for disbanding the local police force if the department voted to form a union. Outraged protests followed, Erickson accused police officers and their supporters of being “union thugs,” and, like Sarah Palin, he ended up quitting before his first term was up in order to take a job hosting a Limbaugh-style talk-radio show in Atlanta.

In 2010, Erickson made headlines when he threatened to put the fear of God on any census worker he caught on his property trying to conduct the American Community Survey. He said he would "pull out my wife's shotgun and see how that little ACS twerp likes being scared at the door." "They're not going on my property. They can't do that. They don't have the legal right, and yet they're trying," he said. (The census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution.)

That wasn't his first time playing with violent imagery. After Washington state banned dishwashing detergents that were polluting its waterways with phosphates, Erickson asked, “At what point do the people tell the politicians to go to hell? At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator's house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?" In the same post, the internet tough-guy wrote, "Were I in Washington State, I'd be cleaning my gun right about now waiting to protect my property from the coming riots or the government apparatchiks coming to enforce nonsensical legislation."

Ironically, he also claimed that "it is and has always been the left" that resorts to political violence. "Deal with it," he added with a rhetorical sneer. That was last March, 11 months after Richard Poplawski, infuriated that Obama was planning on taking his guns, killed three Pittsburgh cops and nine months after white supremacist James von Brunn opened fire at the Holocaust Museum. Four months after Erickson penned that post, Byron Williams, inspired by a series of tirades by Glenn Beck, was arrested on his way to a killing spree targeting the ACLU and the progressive Tides Foundation after a shootout with California Highway Patrolmen.

In 2009, when the Obama administration appointed Kevin Jennings, a highly respected educator who happens to be openly gay, to serve as Assistant Deputy Secretary for theOffice of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education, Erickson launched an impressively bigoted rant, calling Jennings, “a profoundly sick and immoral human being -- a proponent of statutory rape, an opponent of the Boy Scouts of America, and a zealous advocate of NAMBLA [the North American Man/Boy Love Association].” He went all in, claiming without a shred of factual support that Jennings is "not just a gay man, but a man who believes in the full gay rights agenda, where men and boys can have sexual relationships free of prudish moral people frowning," and calling him "a man who encourages predatory relationships between young boys and grown men."

When a right-wing Texas outfit called the Former Majority Association for Equality (because white people are an embattled minority!) took fire for offering a whites-only college scholarship, Erickson was quick to defend them, saying, “If we're going to get rid of scholarships for African Americans and get rid of scholarships for Hispanics and get rid of scholarships for Asians and get rid of scholarships for women, then let's get rid of [these] scholarships. But if we're not going to get rid of those, then let's keep this one.”

When asked whether historic discrimination might have something to do with affirmative action policies, Erickson insisted that while blacks did face some discrimination in the past, Hispanics, Asians and women have not. “Now we've reached the point in Texas,” he said, “where the white men are no longer the majority!” (White men may be a minority, but white people make up 70.4 percent of the population of the Lone Star State.)

Ideological litmus tests don't win elections, and Erickson helped hand a seat in a solidly Republican district in New York to the Democrats when he rebelled against the party's decision to back Dede Scozzafava -- a popular local pol with high name recognition -- in favor of Doug Hoffman, a raging Tea Bagger few people had heard of previously. Erickson wrote, “If Dede Scozzafava is the best the New York Republicans can come up with, let’s just hand the district over to the Democrats.” Erickson then helped do just that – Hoffman grabbed the nomination, and the high-profile special election was eventually won by Democrat Doug Owens.

Erickson also said feminists have brain damage because they're “too ugly to get a date,” argued that the Clintons killed Vince Foster – and warned that Obama might do away with disgraced congressman Eric Massa (he later claimed this was a poor attempt at “conspiracy humor”) -- called Michelle Obama a “Marxist harpy wife,” defended Glenn Beck's claim that Obama is a “racist” – “Given all the terrorists, thugs, and racists Barack Obama has chosen as close personal friends...” – and said that Obama's Nobel Prize was a result of “affirmative action.”

It's a sad reflection on CNN's judgment that such a nasty piece of work is given airtime on one of the country's premier news stations to spout this kind of gibberish. But that's a media job, far from the task of governing. That Erick Erickson is a person to whom House Republicans are supposedly looking for wisdom on the debt ceiling negotiations is a good deal more troubling, and may well be part of the reason we find ourselves in this ugly political mess.

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