As I noted below, Republicans and some Democrats are blasting plans for a new group, Priorities USA, that is set to raise and spend huge sums — some from undisclosed donors — on Obama’s reelection. The Rove-founded group Crossroads GPS, for instance, charged that the effort is “brazen hypocrisy,” and some Dems, like Russ Feingold, are denouncing the effort.
I emailed Paul Begala, one of the founders of the new group, to respond. And boy did he respond:
Taking a lecture on hypocrisy from Karl Rove is like turning to Donald Trump for advice on hairstyle. If Mr. Rove wants to see a portrait of hypocrisy, he need only look in the mirror. He and his supporters spent millions of dollars accusing Democrats of seeking to “gut Medicare” when in truth it is Republicans who are trying to end Medicare as we know it and Democrats who are fighting to save it. Surely George Orwell is spinning at 78 rpms right now.
We strongly support reform. We support new laws to require transparency of all donations. We support repealing the wrongheaded Citizens United ruling. But, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war with the laws you have, not the laws you wish you had.
Mr. Rove, the billionaire Koch brothers, the Chamber of Commerce, the NRA, the American Action Network, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, and other right-wing groups are projected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to advance an extreme agenda which would hammer the middle class. We will not let their attacks go unanswered.
As we say back home in Texas, “a hit dog barks.” Mr. Rove and the RNC are barking because their days of unchallenged lies are over. There is too much at stake. The Supreme Court itself, for starters, which Mitt Romney has pledged to stack with jurists like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. The very existence of Medicare is at risk. Nursing home care, student loans, environmental protection, Wall Street reform, consumer protection — the very fabric of the American middle class — is in the Rove-Koch crosshairs. They want to slam the middle class in order to give more rewards to oil companies, millionaires and billionaires.
Everywhere I go Americans have asked me why progressives are letting the right wing define the debate. Sadly, in the post-Citizens United world, unlimited money has allowed them to. There is a real groundswell out there. Progressives are fed up with the politics of fear and smear, fed by the tactics of lie and buy. They want to stand up and fight back. That’s just what we intend to do.
There’s an intense battle going on right now among Dems over this new initiative. Feingold issued a blistering statement claiming that “our democracy is best served by rejecting the fundamentally corrupt strategy of embracing unlimited corporate influence.”
But in truth, both Feingold and Begala can be right here. It’s wrong that voters will not be told who is funding Dem ads — period. But the problem here is the rules that enable this to happen on both sides, and Dems are trying to change those rules. The liberal case for accepting undisclosed money — as articulated here by Begala — is that over the long term, it will make reform more likely by evening the playing field and facilitating Dem electoral success. It’s fair to demand, as Feingold does, that Dems not embrace “unlimited corporate influence.” And it’s good to have Feingold staking out the argument that undisclosed money is unacceptable, lest it become accepted as routine. But the better way to hold Dems to Feingold’s standard may be to insist that they pursue real reform in legislative terms, not to demand that they lead by example and adopt what amounts to unilateral disarmament, as admirable as that might seem.