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GOP Corporate Donors Cash In on Smut

AT&T, which sold its broadband cable system to Comcast a couple years after the Egan story ran in The New York Times, has given 54 percent of its $19,672,908 to Republicans. AT&T continues to own Liberty Media, which is the principle owner of On Command, a Denver-based company that is one of the two largest providers of pay-per-view movies to hotel chains.

In Vanity Fair's annual list of top 50 "new establishment" information age titans, the magazine sought to determine which of the presidential candidates each person on the list supported. Of those that could be determined, the field was split almost evenly between Bush and Kerry. After the list was published, Viacom's Sumner Redstone, who had been listed as a Kerry supported, announced he was supporting Bush. Viacom owns MTV.

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Redstone was listed as the third most powerful information age titan, right behind Murdoch. Of the top 10 titans, four were primarily in the business of media. And with Redstone's announcement, three of those four -- Murdoch, Redstone and Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts -- were all Bush supporters. Barry Diller was the Kerry guy.

Another high-ranking media mogul was Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons. Time Warner, of course, has vast holdings in cable television, publications, online and music mediums. Parsons, a former assistant to New York governor and U.S. vice president Nelson D. Rockefeller, contributed a total of $2,000 to Bush in 2000 and 2004 and none to Al Gore or John Kerry.

Marriage of Convenience

I vividly recall one of Bush's most popular stump speech lines from the 2000 election: "My job will be to usher in the responsibility era, a culture that will stand in stark contrast to the last few decades, which has clearly said to America: If it feels good, do it. And if you've got a problem, blame somebody else."

But this strategy conveniently exempts the corporate elite from those high standards of responsibility.

In his buzzed-about book, "What's the Matter With Kansas," the liberal writer Thomas Frank hypothesizes that today's winning GOP majority is the culmination of a marriage of convenience between the GOP's economic elite and social conservatives. The economic elite needs the votes of the social conservatives to win elections. And the economic elite needs to win elections to pursue the tax cuts and deregulation they seek.

Frank believes that the economic conservatives convince the masses to vote against their economic interests by creating an angry and permanent cult of victimization that diverts attention from the elites and pins all of the country's problems on the eponymous liberal bogeyman. Even as the GOP continues to consolidate and hoard its economic and political power, the Washington-based leadership and strategists of the GOP mask its lack of progress in the culture war -- even as it accomplishes its goals of tax cuts and deregulation -- by convincing the masses to rise up against their true oppressors, Sean Penn, Harvard and the New York Times editorial page.

In the end, the Rupert Murdochs of the world could not exist without the Utah Counties of the world. His political party needs their voters. His businesses need their patronage.

While the debate over abortion and gay rights remains as relevant as ever, the preponderance of evidence suggests that the larger "cultural" values debate is as over-hyped as most of Don King's fights.

Popular culture isn't popular because members of the "tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving left-wing freak show" (to borrow a line from a campaign ad this year) are the only customers. It's because there is an unquenched thirst for it, and the corporate profiteers (who are members of and contributors to both political parties) see a nationwide market for it.

Jeffrey J. Douglas, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based criminal defense attorney and chairman of the Free Speech Coalition, an adult entertainment advocacy and watchdog group, summed it up: "Any time you can find a way to market sexual entertainment, rest assured that the largest entities will make sure they can make money off of it and make sure they have deniability."

Conservative syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams said most conservative voters understand this but have rewarded the GOP with their votes because of the sincere religiosity of President Bush and his ability to reassure them that he shares their concerns about the culture.

"I don't draw much of a distinction between corporate America and Hollywood," Williams said. "It's not only Hollywood that produces this filth, but corporate America too. They exploit it to take advantage of it to make money off of it."

While Democrats will never be able to reach certain voters because of issues such as abortion and gay rights, it cannot abdicate the values debate, many party leaders argue. The political divide is narrow enough that Democrats can win by peeling off a small percentage of values voters by casting its own priorities in terms of morality and by sending a message that they empathize with those concerned about the vulgarization of the culture.

"You're not going to convince the hardcore to turn around, and you shouldn't even try because you would compromise your own values," said Al From of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. "You've got to talk about giving something back. We did that in '92 with national service. Clinton got criticized in 1996 for small bore ideas like the V chip and school uniforms. But he made it clear that he was concerned with how hard it is to raise kids today."

Clinton won a dozen states in his 1996 re-election that went to Bush this year.

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