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September 25th, 2009
06:20 AM ET

Avlon: ACORN confirms its worst stereotypes

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.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="ACORN sign (L) and Ellen Sauerbrey (R)."]

In this edition of "Wingnuts of the Week," the unhinged attacks on the Obama administration from GOP leaders continue while ACORN confirms its worst stereotypes and gives community organizing a bad name.

On the right, the problem since the summer is that the wingnut fringe is blurring with base and influencing party leadership. That disturbing dynamic came into sharp focus this past week after a former Bush administration official claimed that the Obama administration was advancing "fascist, socialist ideals."

Former Bush administration official Ellen Sauerbrey – who served as UN representative, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration and was a two-time GOP nominee for governor in Maryland – warned a September Lincoln/Reagan dinner audience: "I'm really afraid for the future of our country. Our Constitution is indeed being dismantled."

The story was broken by The County Times of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, which said she characterized the president as being surrounded by “a cult-like following edging toward those of past dictators like Juan Peron and even Adolph Hitler.” When subsequently asked to clarify her comments, Sauerbrey disputed the article and denied having personally compared President Obama to Hitler, saying instead: “I think that we have a government that is following policies that are socialistic and fascist."

When among the most accomplished members of the GOP start parroting paranoid talk radio talking points it’s a sign of the degradation of our civil discourse. Her fellow Maryland Republican Michael Steele might want to step in and restore some sanity.

On the left, the wingnut of the week is ACORN – and it’s been a long-time coming. Long a symbol of far-left unaccountability and ideological excesses to folks on the right – despite their supposed non-partisan status – ACORN found itself facing a shocking video sting operation by enterprising conservative activists when workers in 4 cities eagerly offered a pretend pimp and prostitute tax and loan advice on setting up a brothel. One tape shows a worker allegedly offering advice on smuggling 13 underage El Salvadoran girls into the country to work there, including recommendations that the girls be listed as ‘dependents’ on the tax forms.

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The full tapes have yet to be released and at least one ACORN employee reported the requests to the police. But if the pattern holds true, it confirms the worst stereotypes – grassroots groups taking taxpayer dollars to undermine U.S. laws and values of common sense and common decency. The CEO of ACORN called the workers’ actions "indefensible." The House and Senate votes to strip the organization of federal funding and the White House dropped them from participating in the census. It was revealed that the IRS had placed $2 million in tax liens against the group's Big Easy headquarters and even Rep. Barney Frank condemned their actions in a statement released Wednesday. Amid an ongoing investigation and now a lawsuit against the journalist James O’Keefe and the Web site that first posted the videos, it’s clear that from small stings big scandals can grow.

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

Filed under: Wingnuts of the week
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Mitchell

    Should not everyone just set back and look forward to living in a bankrupt socolist country. I thought that was the real dream of everyone-not just the dream of the liberals, the socolists and the true democrats but of everyone.

    October 12, 2009 at 4:10 pm |
  2. reeftanker2001

    They were caught on tape breaking the law. They have long and strong ties to Obama. Please provide videotape your accusations against the right. CNN, MSNBC, CBS, and ABC have huge news staffs trying to get dirt on the right. One college student and his friend have ACORN on video for helping people break the law and Planned Parenthood on audiotape accepting donations as long as the money went to "Abort Black babies"

    October 8, 2009 at 8:24 pm |
  3. Fiona

    This is complete nonsense.

    Nobody really knew about ACORN before the alleged voter fraud that righties were up in arms about before and after the elections in 2008.

    Oh noes! The thought of poor people actually voting was too much for cons to take.

    Ever since Obama won, and his "community organizer" background was disparaged by the right, the wingnuts (and wingnuts are the right, moonbats the left) have had a hard on for ACORN that won't die down.

    As Jeremy Scahill points out, there are plenty of far worse crimes that have been committed by Defense and military contractors which have gone unpunished, than a rogue employee at ACORN trying to help a pimp and a prostitute – avoid paying taxes.

    One of the ironies in this particular "sting" is that the "right" LOVE to avoid taxes by any means possible, so their faux outrage is amusing.

    September 30, 2009 at 4:22 pm |
  4. joe

    A lot of folks are throwing around terms these days without full understanding of the definitions. Obama is a socialist, but not a fascist. Hitler was a socialist in the beginning truth be told, Nazi = National Socialist German Workers’ Party or NSDAP. Hitler socialized all kinds of industries in Germany at first including health care. He banned smoking in public places and took away the right to bear arms. Those are all the true historical facts. The fascism piece came in later as historians began to classify Nazism as it seemed to be someplace between socialism and nationalism. In total number I am afraid socialism and communism have killed more people than capitalism ever did. Socialism needs to be monitored closely as it gives absolute power to governments and not the people. Calling Obama a socialist should be acceptable, calling him Hitler is garbage. He has not provided any reason or actions in which anyone should compare him to that man at this time. We all thought Bush was a good guy to a few years back.

    September 28, 2009 at 3:02 pm |
  5. Alex -DC

    Just a quick clarification. Hitler and his party were indeed National Socialists. They however were not Fascists. In order to dicuss Fascist policies you need to look at Franko and Mussolini.

    People keep mixing up the Nazi's (National Socialists) with the Fascists with whom they were closely allied. And the two ideologies while similar in some aspects are quite distinct. For example the Fascists were internationalists, and Nazi's well not so much. It's not any less erroneous than to call the Nazi's Communists, really.

    September 28, 2009 at 1:42 pm |
  6. Marcia Brinkman

    I watched the bit about schoolchildren chanting a song about Obama during black history month, and how some parents were upset. I am a Caucasian American, both sides of my family having emigrated to the United States before 1850 from France and Germany. I have become increasingly ashamed of my fellow Americans who apparently are afraid of Mr. Obama. It makes me feel sad to listen to their nuttiness. I wonder what the children are getting out of all this. Will rascism and intolerance prevail?

    September 28, 2009 at 6:59 am |
  7. ted in portland

    Steven: Your antipathy for the "Chinese Communists" seems a bit extreme under the circumstances. They've loaned us $500-billion in the last year alone, and are holding nearly $1-Trillion in US Treasury-backed securities. As for invading us with "100 divisions", they don't have to invade us with any divisions at all. If they wanted to destroy this country, they could do it simply by refusing to roll over the debt they now hold when it matures. Our elected officials, both Republican and Democrat, have literally sold this country to the Chinese and the oil-rich countries in order to fund their re-election campaigns, and in many cases enrich themselves personally.

    As for 'conflicting ideologies', there are no ideologies in conflict in the real world, only on Television and in forums like these. In the real world, the only ideology fully subscribed in this country is Greed, and it's disciples don't care where the money comes from, as long as it keeps coming to them.

    September 26, 2009 at 10:45 am |
  8. greg

    To "ted in portland":

    I am a lifelong Democrat, age 52, and found your post to be spot on. Our government has been hijacked by the "moguls and influence peddlers" as you noted. The fact that our country hasn't "turned a profit" since 1975 is an astounding and sad statistic.

    One point I'd like to make is that Obama is not a Trojan horse as you say. He has the right ideas for turning the country around but he cannot do it alone, even though he is president he is only one person. The people must put pressure on our representatives to stop their corrupt ways and rally behind Obama for change. We cannot leave our fate up to Congress our we will be doomed.

    September 26, 2009 at 6:57 am |
  9. Steven

    Fascism, socialism, right wing, left wing, wing nuts all !!!!!!!! Why don't we just move right on into the next bloody civil and get this over with. There is now so much hatred between conflicting ideologies in this nation that unless we fight this out now and come to some sort of balance soon, the Chinese Communists will have 100 divisions in the U.S. of A. and all these stupid S.O.B.s will know what REAL totalitarianism is. Wake up, work together or start the war now.

    September 25, 2009 at 9:12 am |
  10. ronvan

    Yes, when you watch this video about Acorn, someone would have to be from another planet to not think something is up. This "WINGNUT"
    guy, "pimp", must still be living in the 50's. However, the problem as I see it will be that this issue will just go away and that will be the end of it. Glad to see that their government funds were withdrawn, but what about shutting them down? As far as Sauerbreys comments go this has become so commonplace as to almost be non newsworthy!
    These "people" do not care if President Obama & his team are doing good things or bad things for our country, they just don't have the guts to say that he is black!

    September 25, 2009 at 8:37 am |
  11. Allen in Hartwell GA

    More to the point of this weeks "Wingnuts":
    It appears that the Democrats are willing to acknowledge their faults and try to remedy them. When will the GOP do likewise? (Oops, sorry. I forgot that the GOP doesn't have any faults: everything is the fault of the Democrats.)

    September 25, 2009 at 8:16 am |
  12. Allen in Hartwell GA

    For all the people so adamantly opposed to socialist ideas of any sort, I invite you to read the phrases below and see if you can avoid seeing socialistic tendencies being espoused. Then try to remember where you might have seen the words before.
    We the People...,in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution...

    September 25, 2009 at 8:02 am |
  13. pyramos

    Sam Marino is correct, the undercover pimp set up the sting in the most extreme way he could and still caught the ACORN employees off guard. If he had been more mainstream think of what he could gotten away with. It didn’t take much to shed light on these Associates of Obama did it?

    September 25, 2009 at 7:38 am |
  14. ted in portland

    Most of the people who use the terms 'socialist' and 'fascist' don't have a clue what they mean. I'm a lifelong Republican, age 56, who voted for Obama. I couldn't have been more wrong in my expectations of this very talented, but apparently immature and naive politician. Since taking office, he has not only done nothing to reduce the influence of special interests over government, he has paid off their losses, and reinforced their hegemony over national policy.

    Unfortunately, as a member of the loyal opposition, I find that many Republicans indulge themselves in the belief that (we) are "the people who are paying the bills", and that somehow the Democrats are trying to re-distribute our wealth (hence the charge of 'socialism').

    In fact, as we ponder a bi-partisan Bush/Obama deficit of nearly $1.8-Trillion for fiscal 2009, we find that the people who pay the bills have paid less than half of our cost of government this year. The balance has been paid for by funds either borrowed from countries like China, Japan, and various oil producers, or created out of thin air by the Federal Reserve. And despite the horrific empirical reality of our national balance sheet, the overwhelming majority on both sides of the debate prefer to treat it as yet another 'talking point'.

    As for the recipients of those funds, while it's hard to track the total plunder distributed to Wall Street executives who took billions in commissions on fraudulently qualified sub-prime mortgage securities, my guess is there is at least parity at the trough between that preferred (generally Republican) constituency, and any of the traditional Democratic political charities. Perhaps we are close to a tipping point where the number of people who's incomes (and commensurate exorbitant lifestyles) depend upon political influence, outnumber those of us who believe in free-enterprise and honest competition.

    We are all citizens of a country which hasn't turned a profit in 35 years (since 1975, the last time we showed a trade surplus in the global economy). As a people, we are trust-funders, living off an inheritance. We have a Congress which has disconnected itself from it's Constitutional obligation to reconcile government expenditures with tax revenues, and instead, fund itself with regular cash advances on an apparently unlimited line of national credit. And finally, after electing a President with an overwhelming mandate to change all that, we find the White House occupied by a man who appears to have been a Trojan Horse, left on our doorstep by a cabal of utterly corrupt financial moguls and influence peddlers. Does the observation of that fact make me a 'socialist', a 'fascist', or a 'wingnut'? It probably doesn't matter, it is after all, just another talking point.

    September 25, 2009 at 7:28 am |
  15. pyramos

    Paul; fascism and Socialism are not at opposite ends of the spectrum, if you remember the Nazis were socialist. Hitler was admired by Stalin and they were allies until the former attacked the Soviets. In any case it is not inconceivable that a government could adopt positions from both Socialism and Fascism.

    September 25, 2009 at 7:23 am |
  16. pyramos

    John; I just watched your 25 Sep Wingnuts of the Week . I do not know how you can deny that Obama is advancing socialist ideals, or how you can’t at least understand why reasonable people would feel that way.

    September 25, 2009 at 7:14 am |
  17. Paul Hildebrand

    Mr. Avolon - You might also point out that Socialism and Fascism are at opposite ends of the spectrum and traditional, historical antagonists. A political system cannot be both at the same time, which further shows Ms. Sauerbrey's "wingnut" ignorance of history.

    September 25, 2009 at 6:51 am |
  18. Sam Marino

    Has any testing been done to verify the audio of the "hidden video"? I've watched it a couple of times, I hear a one-sided discussion of illegal activities but I do not see the speaker. The Acorn representative does not the same references and in fact appears to be answering legitimate questions.

    I don't think anyone could be so naive? Take a look at the "undercover pimp", he dressed in such a stereo-typical manner it looked like a Halloween costume.

    September 25, 2009 at 6:47 am |
  19. greg

    Now that we know what's going on at ACORN let's get some hidden cameras into the boardrooms of the financial industry and Wall Street. Let's get a glimpse of how 2 Trillion dollars of American wealth was decimated in a few months. Let's examine how workers 401K's were reduced to 201K's while bankers and health insurance executives still rip off the American taxpayers. The 80/20 rule applies here. Republicans focus on the 20 percent (ACORN) while they let the 80 percent (The Financial Industry) run amok.

    September 25, 2009 at 6:29 am |