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March 5th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

Avlon: 'Wingnuts' reinforce partisan stereotypes

Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is a senior political columnist for The Daily Beast and author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America." 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.

The RNC presentation, discovered by Politico.com, encourages fundraisers to stoke the fires of ''fear.''

The RNC presentation, discovered by Politico.com, encourages fundraisers to stoke the fires of ''fear.''

By John Avlon, Special to CNN

Washington’s partisan stereotypes got reinforced this week by a dean of the liberal House leadership and a stunningly cynical PowerPoint presentation to RNC fundraisers.

Congressman Charles Rangel has been a fixture on the Democratic scene for four decades, finally rising to the powerful chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, overseeing U.S. tax policy. Nothing grates Americans more than hypocrisy from politicians. Months ago, Rangel came under scrutiny for failing to disclose income in excess of $500,000 and failing to pay taxes. Allegations included paying below market rate for four apartments in Harlem and not disclosing rental income off a cottage in the Dominican Republic.

This week, the Ethics Committee found that Rangel had accepted gifts of travel to the Caribbean for conferences without appropriate reimbursement and Rangel offered to temporarily step down from his chairmanship. It wasn’t just the ethical lapse that elevates this to wingnut levels, it’s the way it confirms the worst stereotypes of big city Democrats – Rangel’s predecessor in his congressional seat, the pioneering Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was laid low by a scandal involving misappropriation of funds.

This new round of charges also increased heat on Democratic congressional leaders – especially Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had previously stood by Rangel. After a series of Republican congressional scandals, she had famously promised to preside over “the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history.” When even the man in charge of the tax code has trouble with its compliance, Rangel’s troubles reinforced the feeling that government is broken.

But for sheer cynicism, a PowerPoint presentation for Republican fundraisers developed by RNC Finance Director Rob Bickhart pulls back the curtain on a Washington culture that stokes the fires of fear and hyper-partisanship for political profit.

The presentation, discovered by Politico, explicitly encourages fundraisers to stoke the fires of “fear;” “Extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration;” and “Reactionary” in an attempt to drum up dollars for the party coffers.

President Obama is depicted as the Joker, Speaker Pelosi as Cruella DeVille and Senate Majority Leader Reid as Scooby Doo. The administration is called “The Evil Empire,” which any Republican will recognize as Ronald Reagan’s description of the Soviet Union’s communist dictatorship. Perhaps most damning, the presentation asked, “What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House, or the Senate...?.” The answer: “Save the country from trending toward Socialism!”

Send in your suggestions for 'Wingnuts of the Week'

RNC Chairman Michael Steele was quick to denounce the presentation through a spokesman and it was announced that the PowerPoint would not be used again. But it is indelible evidence of a party that is trying to convince its donors and the American people that the president is a socialist to score political gains in the midterm elections. It is a new low, prime evidence of the way wingnuts proliferate in Beltway backrooms – purposefully confusing patriotism with partisanship, all in an attempt to divide in order to conquer.

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


Filed under: Opinion • Politics • Wingnuts of the week
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Keith

    Paying below market rent on apartments? Everyone does that, its how apartment complexes make you feel like you are getting a deal

    March 9, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  2. K.L.C.

    I agree with prior posts...Charles Rangel is a hypocrite, an opportunist and probably a crook (or would considered one if he weren't in Congress where apparently the lawmakers are themselves above the law). However, in no way does he qualify as a "wingnut". Sarah Palin is a wingnut – she publicly lies, holds incredibly extreme and primitive views, makes unsubstantiated claims designed to appeal to the ignorant and uneducated (of which she herself is one), greatly simplifies issues, appeals to the base human instincts of fear and hate and works her supporters into a frenzy of rage wherein they will believe anything, including that President Obama is the devil himself, setting up "death panels" to kill all the old folks. That's a wingnut. A common garden-variety crooked member of Congress who does not hold extreme and simplistic views, go around pandering to ignorant people and fomenting trouble even if it destroys the country (maybe even trying to destroy the country) is not a wingnut. He's just a common jerk.

    Frankly, although in the interests of "fairness" I would assume that there must be Democratic wingnuts to balance out the Republican ones, I have yet to see a candidate on the left who would merit this title today. Sincerely, KLC

    March 8, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
  3. kathleen

    2 Comments:

    1. RNC ad reminds me of terrorist thinking. I am reminded of the images of middle east protestors burning American flags and effigies of our presidents. I thought Americans were better than this but, alas Pandora's box was opened by Jiohn McCain's VP pick.

    RNC may denounce the ad but they know exactly whom to target with the (they don't know any better..... just feed them some more hate). They may be more embarassed about the notation that went along with it than the ad itself as people with common sense will look at this in disgust. ergo the fence straddlers. Trying to have your cake and eat it too is a quagmire. wingnuts/Independents.... wingnuts/independents...... sooner or later they will have to choose. oil vs water

    2. Charley Rangle – wingnut? I agree with another poster; hypocrit and unethical maybe but wingnut is a stretch. Democrats normally are just not that vicious to be described as wingnuts. That type of hatred and extremism is typically glowing red. It's the truth, not your fault tho, you tried...lol.

    The pandering is getting to be transparent

    March 5, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  4. JB

    What a disgraceful party!!!!!!!!!

    March 5, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  5. Ralph Patch

    I'd like to know why a Republican (Avlon) is decideing who is a wing nut. Mike is right . Avlon is really making a stretch to call Rangle a Wing Nut.

    March 5, 2010 at 8:57 am |
  6. Johnny Bush

    Does President bashing inspire Patriotism. Is party politics unconcerned with respecting policy substance or Rhetoric that would create an atmosphere that would Unite America because of popular Constitutional perversion that encourages umpatriotic practices? Destroying one another isn't American Justice, is that the nature of domestic peace or domestic terrorism?

    Kiran, your talking voice is a rare quality level of Happy, and is a professional asset.

    March 5, 2010 at 7:25 am |
  7. mike-sey

    Sorry ,John, you are falling into the "balance" trap and indulging in Definition creep in order to fit your pre-ordained format.

    Call out wingnuts on both left and right when you find them, but don't do backflips to fit someone in when you can't. Rangel may be many things but you failed miserably to show what he did or said was wing-nutty.

    Maybe its easier to identify wingnuts on the right than on the left. If so let the facts speak for themselves, otherwise you run the risk of joining the Bush School of Journalists, constantly redefining and fudging in order to justify what you are doing.

    March 5, 2010 at 7:05 am |
  8. Darlene Shea

    Michael Steele has already spoken out in opposition to this add, and rebuked it. Good thing I watch many different network new programs or I would not know this. From FNC (Fox News Channel):
    Republicans tried Thursday to distance themselves from the imagery and language of the presentation, which was first reported by the Politico news Web site.

    Sen. John Thune, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, said: "There is no place for this. Obviously when you're fundraising you want to make points and you want to make direct and succinct points, but using these sorts of tactics is certainly not something that any of us ought to condone."

    Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called the images inappropriate and blamed a party staffer who made a "decision to say, 'Hey, we'll have some fun with this, and people will laugh and joke about it."'

    "Clearly it's not something that I would tolerate and certainly would not want presented to me, and we're dealing with it administratively," said Steele, who said he learned of the document Wednesday,

    "Yes, you want to get out there and state things that rile people up and get them excited and create images that will do that," Steele said, "but this is the line that we won't tolerate nor cross in the RNC."

    Still, the Democratic National Committee pounced on the document as "Republican fear mongering."

    The Republican Party "seems hell-bent on damaging their battered brand even further by engaging in the most despicable kind of imagery, tactics and rhetoric imaginable," DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse said.

    The presentation encourages fundraisers to use a direct marketing pitch that exploits "extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration." It also describes ways to appeal to major donors, including "peer to peer pressure," "access" and "ego driven."

    The document does illustrate an essential fact about fundraising, however. "If you can't scare the hell out of donors, you're not going to get any money," Republican strategist John Feehery said

    "This is inartfully done," Feehery said. "But the fact of the matter is Democrats were trying to scare the hell out of their donors about George Bush's 'fascism,' they were trying to scare the hell (out of donors) about Sarah Palin and her stupidity and her religious zealotry.

    So I sy that John Avlon – CNN Contributor, is the true "wingnut" trying to stir up trouble, rather bias reporting.

    March 5, 2010 at 6:43 am |