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.
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!”
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.