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August 21st, 2009
06:31 AM ET

Avlon: Hyper-partisan blast from the past

Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.

Cindy Sheehan (L) and Tom DeLay (R).

Cindy Sheehan (L) and Tom DeLay (R).

The health care debate continued to heat up with week. There was an eruption of wingnuttery on the left, as liberals went into reflexive protest mode against the Obama administration’s indication that they might support a bipartisan bill with a non-profit co-op instead of a public option.

On the right, rock-ribbed partisans are devoted to doing whatever they can to derail Obama’s health care reform in any form. They share a my-way-or-the-highway approach to politics that condemns compromise and denies the concept of common ground.

This week’s Wingnuts are two hyper-partisan blasts from the past who’ve emerged from semi-retirement in an unwelcome attempt to reinsert themselves into the national debate – Cindy Sheehan and Tom DeLay.

On the left, Cindy Sheehan has announced her intention to protest President Obama on his summer vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, according to the Washington Examiner. Sheehan was a far-left fixture a few years ago, protesting then-President George W. Bush outside his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Now she’s back because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan haven’t stopped per her instructions. Here’s a partial list of her demands:

The body bags aren't taking a vacation and as the U.S.-led violence surges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so are the needless deaths of every side…We as a movement need to continue calling for an immediate end to the occupations even when there is a Democrat in the Oval Office.

If the right-wing can force the government to drop any kind of public option or government supported health care, then we need to exert the same kind of pressure to force a speedy end to the occupations.

“The U.S.-led violence” in Afghanistan – nice. Maybe a few weeks protesting the Taliban up close would give Ms. Sheehan a better sense of the source of the violence. But sense of perspective has never been her strong suit – remember, this is the person who referred to President Bush as “the biggest terrorist in the world” and “worse than Osama bin Laden.”

But the real unified field theory of wingnuttery comes when she compares the health care debate – and calls for a bipartisan bill – to her condemnation of the bipartisan support that exists for defeating al Qaeda and the Taliban. In effect, she’s arguing that anti-war protesters learn from the tactics of the anti-health care reform crowd. Ironically, the area where the Obama administration gets the best grades from the American people is foreign policy because of his centrist team’s simultaneous escalation and depolarization of the war in Afghanistan.

The extremes often take pages from each other’s playbook – it’s the hyper-partisan commitment to an all-or-nothing vision of politics that ends up sowing the seeds of its own destruction. It was defended memorably in the following speech on the floor of the House: “It is not the principled partisan, however obnoxious he may seem to his opponents, who degrades our public debate, but the preening, self-styled statesman who elevates compromise to a first principle.”

Those are the words of former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in his retirement speech after being indicted on criminal charges of conspiracy and money-laundering. But now, like a bad dream, he’s back and coming into your living room soon as a contestant on the reality show "Dancing with the Stars."

Repackaging himself as the Wingnut Happy Warrior, the spectacle of competitive dance seems like just an excuse to weigh in on politics again, telling Lloyd Grove at The Daily Beast, “That’s just five hours a day that I dance…I’ve got another 19 hours to stop Obama.” He’s joking that he hasn’t gotten a doctor’s checkup before the competition – “I’d really have liked to — but Obamacare prohibits it!”

DeLay’s been enjoying the town hall eruptions like someone watching a comedy from home. “I love what the American people are doing to the Democrats,” he said in reference to the recent raucous town halls. “I’m sitting back and watching, and it’s just amazing. ... They just keep digging the hole deeper and deeper and deeper.”

DeLay’s humor has taken many forms over the years. There was this howler about the separation of church and state: “To claim that our founding fathers were for separation of church and state is either rewriting history or being very ignorant of history. It is simply impossible and it's unwise to try to separate people and their government from religion." And this thoughtful statement after the massacre at Columbine: "Guns have little or nothing to do with juvenile violence." And given the unhinged Nazi comparisons that are erupting in the health care town halls, let’s give DeLay credit for being ahead of the curve in that game, as in this quote about the Environmental Protection Agency: "The EPA, the Gestapo of government, pure and simply has been one of the major clawhooks that the government has maintained on the backs of our constituents."

DeLay has been soaking up the attention with the mini-media tour, offering his wisdom as key to the resurgence of the Republican Party. But it’s worth remembering that the GOP lost its majority as a result of the cronyism, corruption and pork barrel spending that occurred under his watch. So here’s my advice to Republicans who are tempted to listen to The Hammer’s hyper-partisan advice about how to get out of the wilderness: Ask yourself “What Would Tom DeLay Do?” – and then do the opposite.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.


Filed under: Wingnuts of the week
soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Steve

    Cindy Sheehan is one of the biggest wingnuts out there. Nobody should even care what this old hag has to say about anything.

    December 11, 2009 at 9:50 am |
  2. Charles

    You nailed it Maurice. It's all about greed. We will envade any country if the profit potential is there.

    August 24, 2009 at 8:30 am |
  3. Maurice

    Yes, it IS true that we always are supporting freedom when we go to war.The problem is that when people think of the word "freedom" they tend to think in terms of freedom of individual people, no matter how rich orpoor. However, the FREEDOM that our military is supporting is that of corporate freedom – to exploit foreign mineral, as well as human resources. Often we don't even send our military – too much publicity in that; we just utilize our national terrorist organization, the CIA, that takes as much tax payer money as it wants with no oversight, and have them go reek havoc on the world, usually by equipping and training other terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, or helping to lead coups against democratically elected leaders, and afterwards placing puppet dictators in power. Freedom alright.
    CORPORATE FREEDOM. Why do you think we have such a problem with Iran right now? Look it up – Do some reading. I'm sure it won't hurt your eyes too much, but it may be a stab in a proud heart or two.

    August 21, 2009 at 7:51 pm |
  4. Heather Michon

    I find Avlon's Sheehan comment - like Charlie Gibson's "Enough already on WLS Radio - just squalid. To marginalize her as a crank or somehow insufficiently patriotic is craven.

    I blogged about it at

    http://open.salon.com/blog/heather_michon/2009/08/21/cindy_sheehan_isnt_important_anymore

    August 21, 2009 at 5:34 pm |
  5. Crabby

    What I'd like to know is, why is W not imprisoned in The Hague awaiting trial for crimes against humanity?

    August 21, 2009 at 4:54 pm |
  6. mary

    Cindy is against these wars no matter who is president. And she is taking a stand for what she believes. What is wingnutty about that?

    August 21, 2009 at 4:38 pm |
  7. Boob McNutt

    markp, if any of that crap you spew was true it would be front page news, but it's all written in koolade, my friend. Especially the part about church; he goes every Sunday. And you know this about the m&ms for a fact? Wow, are you ever an insider! You must be Obama's psychiatrist or something.

    August 21, 2009 at 4:31 pm |
  8. Matt Reichel

    John –
    Your disparaging remarks about Cindy Sheehan are thoroughly inappropriate, childish and demonstrate the lack of understanding you have about political ideology. By international standards, Cindy Sheehan is actually the centrist here, insofar as she supports policies that are the norm in advanced industrialized societies: single-payer universal health care, opposition to America's jingoistic wars of Empire, and support for other social programs that are the norm elsewhere, such as universal higher education and strong unions.
    How dare you mud-sling this phenomenal woman of courage and principle, a true patriot, who suffered so much as her son was murdered so as to feed the greed of the religious zealots that govern this country.
    You are the nutty extremist. It is only in this backward country, governed by crooked bankers and hooligans, replete with millions of religious zealots, can you advertise yourself as "centrist."
    Shame on you!

    August 21, 2009 at 4:11 pm |
  9. Anna

    I am so saddened that CNN considers Cindy Sheehan a "wingnut." After everything this nation has been through due to two wars of choice started by the last administration, Ms. Sheehan has been a voice of reason. Why should her son and 5,126 other young Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan? For what noble cause? Certain not because of 9/11. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. The Bush administration did not really intend to kill or capture bin Laden when they first went into Afghanistan - that was proven when Delta Force was told not to take him out when he was within actual visual range at Tora Bora. (It would have negated the "reason" for his invasion into Iraq.) We now have no pretense to be in Afghanistan. The wars are costing us $12 billion/month. Lives of tens of thousands of our troops and their families have been destroyed or disrupted due to PTSD, traumatic brain injury, suicide and divorce as well as wounds that can be seen. It is time to bring our troops home. Obama does not understand or care what the war is doing. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan don't want us there. Bring them home now!

    August 21, 2009 at 4:05 pm |
  10. J.Crobuzon

    Mississippi Mike, maybe you should ask someone what centrists believe instead of making up what you think they believe? I bet you are into voodoo and drive a car like Jed Clampett, and eat nothing but fish heads. Maybe I should find out if it's true? Naah, you're a moron like those imaginary centrists of yours. And Gordon, I hate these bogus wars as much as anyone, but 'treason?' Get a grip.
    Avlon – "wingnut" means a conservative who is screwed on too tight. It doesn't mean "extremist." The wingnuts call the far-left moonbats, and you and I "sheeple." If you refuse to define your terms before the debate, you are the loser.

    August 21, 2009 at 3:36 pm |
  11. Bubba

    Remember DeLay gained prominence by defeating those liberals who tried to tell him there should be safeguards and warnings about industrial-strength insecticides? Thanks to DeLay, you can spray DDT in a kindergarten and no one can prosecute you later; can you smell the freedom?
    Sheehan's just a bit unhinged by her son's grotesque death as a sacrifice in the altar of WMDs Are Real Dammit Real, so she has a small excuse, but DeLay? Hope he drops dead on tv.

    August 21, 2009 at 3:26 pm |
  12. engrish?

    @Josh

    I just figured i would clarify.

    RJ August 21st, 2009 7:41 am ET

    To Tif, your an idiot, Washington was born in Virginia moron, know your facts before you let crap spew out of your suckhole!
    -------------------------
    If you look again, he uses your properly AND improperly. By not reading, or simply trying to call someone else an idiot, you are the idiot sir. That's ok, these blogs are all about hate spewing anyway.

    August 21, 2009 at 3:06 pm |
  13. Greg

    Here we go with the Anti-War crowd again!

    Ya know... I sympathize with you guys... I REALLY do... I don't think anybody in their right mind LIKES the idea of war.... but doesn't the fact that the MOST liberal member of Congress – turned MOST liberal President in history is actively promoting this war effort say ANYTHING about the merits of such action?

    The idea that we go to battle for profit motives is the most absurd and niave comment I've heard in a long time. Reminds me of all the Iraq war for OIL loons back in 2002-2003 build up to the war. Yeah... that MUST have been the reason we were there... $4.00/gal gas last summer doused those flames pretty quick.

    I know it's hard for many to understand.. but we have ALWAYS (for the last 230+ years anyway) stood on the side of freedom, democracy, and human rights... as well as protecting our borders from enemies. It's fun to be a skeptic and conspiracy theorist... but you guys need to grow up, brush off the College freshman -I've got the world figured out – mentality and realize you are NOT so enlightened... and sometimes things ARE infact as they seem. Just because you THINK an idea is original, progressive, and righteous... doesn't make it so.

    August 21, 2009 at 2:42 pm |
  14. Werner Patels

    Sheehan really is a disgrace. As John Avlon said on the broadcast, she should protest the Taliban-caused violence in Afghanistan instead.

    August 21, 2009 at 2:34 pm |
  15. Gordon

    I am a proud veteran of the US Navy. I served under Ronald Reagan from 82 – 88. I was also one of the veterans who took Cindy Sheehan to Crawford,Texas in the Veterans For Peace Impeachment Tour Bus. Other veterans on the bus included republicans, independents, democrats and socialists. To us, the wars are still be waged for false reasons (which is another word for treason). Obama is now responsible for every death in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cindy's continued protest is not only important to support but more valid now that there is a democratic president. She is showing that the democrats are not holding democrats responsible for the wars because now, they are. For CNN to claim that she is a "wingnut" only shows that CNN supports treason.

    August 21, 2009 at 2:33 pm |
  16. Kevin Zeese

    Cindy Sheehan is opposed to the mistaken war in Afghanistan. And, your statements that the U.S. is not the cause of the violence is off the mark. There have been numerous air strikes and drone strikes that have led to numerous civilian deaths in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Leaders of both countries have urged the U.S. to stop their killing of civilians. And, deaths of U.S. soldiers is also consistently increasing. It is evident that the problems in Afghanistan will not be solved by more violence. Sheehan is right. And, your calling her a wingnut is pretty pitiful, especially when YOU HAVE YOUR FACTS WRONG.

    August 21, 2009 at 2:23 pm |
  17. jh

    The author’s contention appears to be that simply having a bottom line (i.e. , that a bill without a public option will be toothless and not worth voting for) makes one a wingnut. I regard this as a lame attempt at being “fair and balanced” — equal time for Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. The attitude of responsible liberals that the insurance companies will never control costs without a non-profit competitor responsive to taxpayers rather than shareholders cannot be compared with the attitude of real wingnuts that this is all a plot to kill grandma, outlaw private insurance, and gain electronic access to everybody’s bank account — promulgated by a secret Muslim of foreign origin. It can’t even be equated to the congressional Republicans’ determination to hand Obama a defeat at the expense of the American people. There may be wingnuts on the left, but I haven’t heard from them, and they certainly are not identified in this column.

    August 21, 2009 at 2:10 pm |
  18. Maurice

    What exactly is a wingnut? Would Rush Limbaugh be considered a
    right wingnut? He IS nuts, or maybe he just thinks, or my bad, knows
    that all his avid viewers are. I think with all the media coverage from all the different angles, and all the information out there about where the money trails lead, any well informed American citizen should realize that fighting the Taliban is NOT why we are in Afghanistan. Haven't we seen and heard enough now to know that the reason our military goes to war is not because of noble virtuous ideals: freedom, democracy, peace, and other BS. It is for monetary and political gain. We ARE a capitalist country run by big corporations that make BIG $$$$ raping third world countries. Oh, do I sound unpatriotic? or is the truth something that is so hard and shameful to accept, that it would cause a proud "patriotic" American to lash out when he/she hears it? So what $$$$ does Afghanistan have to offer. Opium: 90%
    of world production + the Central Asian Oil Pipeline Project that you can bet BIG MONEY SAM plans full well to complete.

    August 21, 2009 at 1:56 pm |
  19. Chris - Seattle

    Folk just need to put a plug in it and let congress and the senate actually create the bill first! I think we've got a general understanding of what the bill needs to do. We've spent several decades empowering insurance companies to the point the they're now raping US citizens pockets & bank accounts, and to think that we've allowed this to happen all in the name of free market. I liked the argument for the single payer plan and the fact that insurance companies don't bring any value to healthcare, all they do is act as a middleman between you & your doctor and making billions in the process, like people health or lack there of is some sort of commodity. BTW the wingnuts(left & right) need to cool it, you're making our country look really really stupid!

    August 21, 2009 at 1:26 pm |
  20. mpd

    RJ, in defense of Tif, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin were not born in the United States. They were British subjects born in the British Empire. Anyone born in America before the end of the Revolutionary War (in 1783) was not born as an American as we know it today. So Tif is right in saying that the founding fathers were not natural born Americans, because natural born Americans didn't exist before 1783. Hows that for knowing your history?

    August 21, 2009 at 1:24 pm |
  21. BM

    The presidents language, (wee-weeded up) refers to wingnuts like this one who is obviously weeded up on not just pot alone.

    August 21, 2009 at 1:19 pm |
  22. Mississippi Mike

    What does a centrist actually believe? What do they want to do politically? How can you make a good case for, "I'll just take what both sides want and split the difference," when both sides what the exact opposite things. Undecided voters are the world's biggest morons, and the politicians that cater to them are no brighter.

    August 21, 2009 at 1:00 pm |
  23. Josh

    And also, Pat... sorry to say, but RJ is using "your" correctly here... Turns out *you're* the idiot.

    And RJ: There are MILLIONS of middle-class americans who don't have health care that Obama is trying to help... In fact, most of the uninsured are middle-class Americans... so... yeah... I think YOU'RE the wingnut! But at least you're a wingnut who uses "your" correctly.

    August 21, 2009 at 12:50 pm |
  24. Josh

    Tif, trite is better than incorrect! Franklin, Jefferson, Adams and Washington WERE born in the American Colonies... Obviously, as the founders of the USA, they couldn't have been born in the United States proper... unless Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence from the womb. Get your history straight, then your critiques might hold more water... and I use "might" very loosely.

    August 21, 2009 at 12:42 pm |
  25. José

    Anyone who thinks CNN is biased should take a long hard look at FOX news. Their whole strategy is "Fair and Balanced" which means because they think all other media is liberal, they take the far right stance to make it "balanced". The war should have ONLY been in Afghanistan. If Bush didn't take us on a wild goose chase in iraq, which I knew was a farce when he gave them 48 hours to get out of iraq, we would be through with this war. And by the way, 10 billion a month = 120 billion a year. We've been in this war since 2003 so if my math isn't wrong, that 720 billion. So do you want to kill people or have health coverage? We chose to kill people and alienate all muslims. Not a good idea.

    August 21, 2009 at 12:24 pm |
  26. Oakspar

    You want to see bias, note the two subjects chosen.

    One is someone who is publically and adamantly opposed to Obamacare and most of the president's other policies.

    The other one is someone who, by pointing out Obama's failure to keep campaign promises (does anyone really think we will be out of Iraq during his term?), is derailing Obamacare.

    The consensus: anyone standing in the way of Obamacare or criticizing the president, reguardless of party affiliation, is a "wingnut."

    Now, if they had balanced Sheehan with a wingnut Republican who was supporting Obamacare, then we would have balanced reporting.

    August 21, 2009 at 12:09 pm |
  27. jh

    The author's contention appears to be that simply having a bottom line (i.e. , that a bill without a public option will be toothless and not worth voting for) makes one a wingnut. I regard this as a lame attempt at being "fair and balanced" - equal time for Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. The attitude of responsible liberals that the insurance companies will never control costs without a non-profit competitor responsive to taxpayers rather than shareholders cannot be compared with the attitude of real wingnuts that this is all a plot to kill grandma, outlaw private insurance, and gain electronic access to everybody's bank account - promulgated by a secret Muslim of foreign origin. It can't even be equated to the congressional Republicans' determination to hand Obama a defeat at the expense of the American people. There may be wingnuts on the left, but I haven't heard from them, and they certainly are not identified in this column.

    August 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm |
  28. Ben

    I love how CNN makes Sheehan a well-deserved "wingnut of the week" during an Obama administration, yet during the Bush years she was the face of the anti-war movement, and somehow completely relevant.

    At least Sheehan has been consistent in her views. That's more than I can say for CNN.

    August 21, 2009 at 11:47 am |
  29. Greg

    Ooooh CNN.... you don't even care how clearly and blatantly biased you appear, do you?

    When she was protesting Bush, she was worthy of our praise... a hearbroken mother who lost a son in a "pointless war". The coverage of her lunacy was non-stop! And your filthy sham of a "news" agency was all over it!

    Now there's a Dem in the White House conducting this war... and she's suddenly a wingnut for protesting.. and now all of a sudden her rhetoric is amusing to you.

    You folks suffer from the same arrogance and elite, self-absorbed, self-inflated, ego driven b.s that our current administration suffers from. The left has an ugly habbit of thinking it's above us "common" people... so much so that fair and unbiased journalism isn't just dead... you gloriously flaunt your LACK of integrity! Or you honestly are convinced you're smarter than us, and you think we can't see through the charade.

    August 21, 2009 at 11:40 am |
  30. Pat

    Wingnuts like Tom DeLay have power because the media (CNN, et. al.) gives them voice and space...if you all didn't support them, they'd most likely go away...but I forget, you're in the entertainment business, the real news is only a secondary consideration!

    RJ: No matter where Washington and Jefferson were born, they were British subjects, not US citizens...also, speaking of getting an education: there is a difference between: your and you are (you're)...thought you'd want to know!

    August 21, 2009 at 11:27 am |
  31. Pete

    Cindy – It's time to let this go. Sadly, nobody can bring your son back, and yes, I will concede that parents shouldn't have to bury their kids – but it's time to let it go. I'm in the military and as crappy as this may sound, death is a job hazzard for us. Why? Because war is what we do for a living. I'm sure that nobody held a gun to your son's head and forced him to join the military – we are a volunteer force – we all volunteer to do this job. I would be mad as hell too if my son had to die, but at some point it would just be healthy for me to let the pain go. I know it's tough but life goes on.

    August 21, 2009 at 11:06 am |
  32. nancy

    Sheehan is a good candidate for "Wingnut of the week".

    August 21, 2009 at 10:56 am |
  33. Grog in Ohio

    I must say, this makes me uncomfortable. Cindy Sheehan has lost a son. Tom DeLay has lost... well... his integrity. HUGE difference. Calling someone that has lost a son a "wingnut" makes me uncomfortable at best.

    August 21, 2009 at 10:42 am |
  34. mary

    John, when Bush was President all we heard from CNN commentators was how Cindy Sheehan had lost a son in Iraq and had EVERY right to protest Bush because of that tragic loss and her concern to end the loss to other families.

    Fast forward to 8/21/09; Not ONCE did you acknowlege her loss and that her speaking out is because of her concern to end the losses for others.

    Your making her a "wingnut" on your bit shows CNN has zero respect for her now when we have a democrat president conducting the war.

    Once again proving how much bias there is at CNN.

    You, Kirin, and everybody else at CNN should be ashamed.

    August 21, 2009 at 10:28 am |
  35. TS

    It wasn't the United States at the time they were born. You walked right into it, RJ.

    August 21, 2009 at 9:51 am |
  36. markp

    Obama plans to pay for 2/3rds of this 1.3 trillion dollar entitlement with 500 billion re-allocated from medicare than “prevention” counselling. In his mind he believes that if he can convince people to stop eating m and m’s that will save people from getting there foot amputated from diabetes, seriously this is how he plans to save 400 billion dollars. To not listen to more of a reallity based solution would be ignorance at best..
    Now even though he has not affilliated with a church since the “REV.” Wright’s rooster pen, he is turning to GOD to spread this awfull plan.. Well MR. PRESIDENT, GOD himself couldn’t make your numbers add up to anything but a bankruptcy of our nation…

    August 21, 2009 at 8:36 am |
  37. RJ

    Franklin was born in Boston, so please go back to where ever you came from and go back to school!

    August 21, 2009 at 7:44 am |
  38. RJ

    Jefferson was born in Virginia as well!

    August 21, 2009 at 7:42 am |
  39. RJ

    To Tif, your an idiot, Washington was born in Virginia moron, know your facts before you let crap spew out of your suckhole!

    August 21, 2009 at 7:41 am |
  40. RJ

    Obamas been a total fraud, he said he was for middle class but so far the only ones being helped are the filthy rich and the filthy poor! He`s a one termer! Thank GOD!

    August 21, 2009 at 7:39 am |
  41. RJ

    Strangely enough Sheehan is right, we still have no business over there, it will never accomplish anything but more anger towards the west! What about Tom Ridge and what he said about Bush wanting a higher terror alert for the election of 2004? I knew Bush and his administration should be behind bars and this proves it! No allegations, or false claims, this came straight from home land security head boss at the time!

    August 21, 2009 at 7:37 am |
  42. Tif

    John...writing more is speaking less. It becomes...boring and trite! Yawn!!

    August 21, 2009 at 6:57 am |
  43. Tif

    Seems our aliens are better Americans than most Americans. Our Congress are just like King George of England. Just raping us with laws. Let's make a law that u can't be in Congress unless u are not a lawyer!!!!

    August 21, 2009 at 6:49 am |
  44. Tif

    George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Addams, Ben Franklin(not a President) were not born in the USA!! So what's the point? Our greatest leaders..way better than the Congress!

    August 21, 2009 at 6:39 am |