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Battleground State: Wisconsin and the 2004 Elections

StoryJune 18, 2004
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We take a look at how Wisconsin could impact on the elections in November with Ed Garvey, perhaps the best-known rebel lawyer in the state and John Nichols, Editorial Editor of the Madison Capitol Times.[includes transcript]

Next week, the Bush and Kerry campaigns will intensify their campaigning for the November presidential elections. Both men will travel extensively across the country and television and radio will see an unprecedented number of advertisements. The amount of money spent in this election is expected to break all previous records, particularly the Bush administration which has amassed the largest campaign war chest in this country’s history.

At least at this point, the polls put Kerry and Bush more or less in a dead heat and some observers believe the race will come down to a few battleground states. Among them is Wisconsin where we are broadcasting from today and Monday. We are going to take a close look at this state and how it could impact November’s elections.

We speak with Ed Garvey. He is perhaps Wisconsin’s most well-known rebel lawyer. He rose to prominence as head of the National Football League’s Player’s Union. In 1998, he was the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor. He lost that race, in which he was outspent nearly 13-1 by his Republican opponent, Tommy Thompson, who is now President Bush’s Health and Human Services Secretary. Garvey heads up a law firm that for years has gone up against large corporations and the state of Wisconsin.

  • Ed Garvey, perhaps Wisconsin’s best known rebel lawyer. He is a former Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General and was the 1998 Democratic nominee in the gubernatorial race, in which he was outspent 13-1 by his Republican opponent-President Bush’s current Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. Garvey’s latest project is, a news site about Wisconsin politics.
  • John Nichols, Editorial Editor of the Madison Capitol Times and a correspondent for The Nation magazine.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we turn to John Nichols, who is the editorial editor of "The Madison Capitol Times" and correspondent for "The Nation" magazine. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

JOHN NICHOLS: And welcome to Wisconsin.

AMY GOODMAN: Well it’s great to be here. So, John, as we listen to these different voices, the summary of the commission’s account of what happened on 9/11, your response.

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, first off, I’m sure glad Henry Kissinger didn’t write this. Initially the Bush administration tried desperately to throw roadblocks in the way of this investigation and in a number of steps, Cheney, for instance, wanted to block it all together. When they couldn’t block it, they tried to put Henry Kissinger in charge, knowing they could always count on him to sweep anything important under the rug. That was beaten and it is one of the biggest victories, I think, for really the forces of light in this country. Because this report is imperfect. We’ll find plenty of things in it that we disagree with and, you know, would like to see more exploration of, but at the bottom line, it is certainly a good first draft of history. It provides us with a lot of information we didn’t know, and it also does something in this period of really missing skepticism on most issues, some real challenges to this administration. It says that: A. They never followed any of the instructions or advice of former Senator Gary Hart and former Senator Warren Rudman who put a report in at the start of 2001 saying many of these issues that we just heard about should have been addressed, and it also tells us that, you know, in excruciating detail how, if this country had its act together, as regards internal defense, rather than rushing abroad looking for countries to invade, we might well have been able to, if not avert this attack altogether, at least have lessened its significance.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols of the "Madison Capitol Times" and "The Nation" magazine. When we come back, we’re going to be joined by the authors of a new book called "Banana Republicans" and then we’ll be back with John Nichols and Ed Garvey the nation’s leading rebel lawyer, to talk about Wisconsin as a battleground state. This is Democracy Now! Broadcasting from Wisconsin. We’ll be back in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! Broadcasting today from Madison, Wisconsin. I’m Amy Goodman. As we continue our 70-city "Exception To the Rulers" book and media tour, today here in Wisconsin, celebrating community radio station WORT and community TV, WYOU. Tomorrow, we’ll be at Madison’s Barrymore theater at 7:30. Tonight, we’ll be at the 10th anniversary celebration for the Center for Media And Democracy, publishers of "P.R. Watch." We’re joined by the founders today of the center, John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. They’ve written a number of books, including "Weapons of Mass Deception" which deals with the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. Their latest book is just out and it documents the right wing’s rise to dominance in American politics. It is called "Banana Republicans: How The Right Wing Is Turning America Into A One-Party State." For the first time since 1932, the Republican Party dominates at every level of the Federal Government. The G.O.P. now controls both houses of Congress, the White House conservatives dominate the Supreme Court, the party also holds an edge in state electoral politics. Republican governors preside over 28 states and the G.O.P. Holds a slight majority of state legislatures. Conservative voices dominate the editorial pages of most U.S. Papers, reverberate throughout the echo chamber of A.M. Talk radio stations, even among the high-powered lobbying firms of Washington, D.C.’s K street, the Republican Party holds sway. I want to start with the 9/11 Commission hearings with John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. Welcome both to Democracy Now!, broadcasting here in Wisconsin. John Stauber, your response to the commission report.

JOHN STAUBER: The commission is interesting for a number of reasons, Amy to my knowledge, no one on that commission took a public stand against the war and, in fact, some of them like Bob Kerrey were advocates for the war in Iraq, despite that the commission has now concluded very strongly there is no credible evidence linking Saddam to the 9/11 attacks. Yet we still see this big lie propaganda tactic being used by the administration coming right out and saying basically, oh, yeah, we have evidence. We have evidence. We know there are links, and it’s all a bunch of hooey. It always has been a bunch of hooey. In our new book "Banana Republicans" we pick up where we left off in "Weapons Of Mass Deception" because one of the indications that indeed our democracy is in great trouble and we’re moving towards a one-party state is when you can make the big lie tactic work, repeating an outrageous falsehood over and over and over to confuse the public and make them believe the falsehood and this administration is still employing that big lie tactic when it comes to linking Saddam to 9/11. There is no link.

AMY GOODMAN: You start in "Banana Republicans" talking about the war at home. Sheldon Rampton, can you talk about the approach that the Republican Party has most recently taken in these few years and who are the intellectual–who are providing the intellectual underpinning for this?

SHELDON RAMPTON: Sure. We begin the book by quoting from a pamphlet that was circulated by the republican leadership to every member–every republican member of the U.S. Congress during the 2000 elections. The title of the pamphlet was "The Art Of Political War: How Republicans Can Fight To Win," authored by David Horowitz. And the thesis of that pamphlet is that politics is a continuation of war by other means and that in war the way to win is to be an aggressor. That is, in a nutshell, the philosophy that has underpinned the Republican Party and the right wing’s rise to power in the United States. And you see it constantly reflected in their rhetoric. Right now to an increasing and really unprecedented degree you see large sectors of the American population being denounced as traitors and treasonous in books published by people like Ann Coulter. The response of the White House to the "New York Times" editorial yesterday about the 9/11 commission was to say–was to denounce the "New York Times" for being outrageous and partisan and that’s simply how the republican right-wing movement has developed. It’s become intensely ideological to the point that, again, when we title the book "Banana Republicans," we’re not simply referring to the fact that the Republican Party has achieved political dominance, we’re also talking about this intensely vitriolic rhetoric that moves us in the direction of a banana republic, a nation dominated by rhetoric of treason and traitors and national security that uses that as a justification for violating the rights of citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: You also talk about Grover Norquist, another prominent leader in the conservative movement’s political war. Quoting Horace Cooper, a former aide to House Majority Leader Dick Armey saying: I would call him our Field Marshall. Take it from there, John Stauber.

JOHN STAUBER: I would say he is probably the most important right-wing political organizer in the country and I think one thing that people on the left, progressives, liberals need to understand is that when Hillary Clinton termed the right a vast right-wing conspiracy, she really hit the nail on the head. And what we do in this book is detail how Grover Norquist, since 1992, for instance, the last 12 years, every single Wednesday, week in, week out has convened the most powerful elements of the right wing from the far right Christian Coalition to the big business lobbyists, to the think tanks, to the right-wing media. Every Wednesday they close the doors, they strategize, they plan, they decide what they’re doing that week, what they’re doing the next month and they’re back every Wednesday and that is why the whole right wing seems constantly on message. Basically I think the most easy way to understand what is going on with our government right now is that it has been taken over by anti-government zealots, such as Grover Norquist who is very plain-spoken and blunt and says things like his goal for the federal government is to halve it over the next 25 years so you can get it down to the size where you can drown it in a bathtub. And he views the possibility that someday the United States might actually have a guarantee of health care for all our citizens as an extreme threat and, in fact, says that if that ever happens, all hope is lost. We’ve moved to a social democracy. So I think the important thing to understand about Grover Norquist and the rest of the strategists in charge of the right wing Republican Party is that these are really heirs to the John Birch society. These people are still fighting the cold war. When they say, as Ann Coulter does, that liberals are engaged in treason for simply thinking liberal thoughts or acting in liberal ways, that is not just some macho metaphor. They really believe that and they really are, as David Horowitz would say, out to–quoting Lenin, destroy all political opposition.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about Grover Norquist in the 1980’s going to the developing world. Can you talk about who he supported, Sheldon Rampton?

SHELDON RAMPTON: Yeah. Norquist spent the 1980’s traveling from one third world hot spot to another supporting the–you know, the right-wing guerilla movements in places like Mozambique and Angola. On his -

AMY GOODMAN: Mozambique’s Renamo and Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA in Angola.

SHELDON RAMPTON: Exactly. He also has a memento in his office, which is a photograph of him posing with an AK-47 in Afghanistan, and that’s not a memento from the current war in Afghanistan. It’s from the 1980’s when, of course, the Reagan administration was backing the Mujahedin against the soviet occupation. If it troubles Norquist that a Mujahedin has gone on to become the organizing base for Al Qaeda, he’s never said so publicly. But what all this tells you about the man is that his domestic political organizing in the United States is strongly colored by his background as someone engaged in basically military intrigues overseas. Again, this is someone who sees politics as a war, and he said very clearly and bluntly that they feel now that they’ve defeated the Soviet Union, now it is time to take on the liberals in the United States and destroy them as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Mm-hmm. The states. What about the shift of not only the federal government, but at the state level, the shift of the party–for control.

JOHN STAUBER: The shift is very disconcerting and, you know a lot of what we write about in the book is how the right-wing media dominates media now and one of the most interesting things, I think, to both Sheldon and me in both researching and writing the book was looking at, in our chapter "Block The Vote" how gerrymandering is being used by the Republican Party. We report on states like Pennsylvania, for instance, where once the republicans gained control of the governorship and both houses of the legislature in 2002, they were able to force through a radical gerrymandering that literally stole congressional seats, apparently legally, away from people who don’t vote republican. And this is an aggressive strategy. Sure, gerrymandering has gone on by both parties for 200 years. But what the republicans have figured out is that when you completely control a state’s governorship and legislatures, there is nothing stopping you from forcing through a radical gerrymandering that literally steals seats and this disenfranchises not only the people in Pennsylvania who don’t vote for these far right republican policies, but it disenfranchises people across the nation, because now states like Pennsylvania, where this extreme gerrymandering has been rammed through, are sending to our National Congress a party that has more republicans and it disenfranchises everyone nationwide when that Congress votes on critical issues.

AMY GOODMAN: You have this segment of a chapter, "50 Ways To Draw Your District."

JOHN STAUBER: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And, again, there’s been a lot of media attention on Texas. We’ve all seen everyone from Jon Stewart to the national media covering what’s happened in Texas. But there hasn’t been the media analysis in the mainstream media, explaining the significance of Texas. This is part of the national strategy orchestrated by people like Tom DeLay and Grover Norquist to really create what we call in the book this one-party state. And I think one of our most important points is no one knows who’s going to win the White House in November. But what almost all political analysts are agreed on is that this hegemony of extreme right republican power is still going to be in place after November, no matter who does win the White House.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. They are the authors of "Banana Republicans: How The Right Wing Is Turning America Into A One-Party State." What about the echo chamber?

SHELDON RAMPTON: The right wing has managed to dominate the media in the United States to a three-part strategy. The first part is that they have very systematically and effectively built their own unabashedly ideological media, by which we mean, of course, talk radio and things like Fox News, that make no bones, really, although Fox calls itself fair and balanced, it’s clearly closely allied with the Republican Party and the right wing. So, on the one hand, they build their own ideological media. On the other hand, they’ve systematically advanced the careers of right-wing journalists within the mainstream and there are organizations in place that do that, that train them, that nurture them from their days as college campus journalists, get them internships at leading media outlets, ranging from the "New York Times" to "USA Today" and then finally the third element in this strategy is to constantly bash the mainstream media for its alleged liberal bias, which is basically a way of working the refs. So on the one hand, they are constantly complaining about bias, while at the same time, they are constantly building their own unabashedly ideological media. It’s a very effective strategy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the foundations that subsidize the media?

JOHN STAUBER: Sure. You know, when we look at the rise of the right, it’s happened over the last 30 to 40 years and it’s been very disciplined and wealthy philanthropists on the right identified with specific foundations like Scathe-Mellon, Bradley, Coors, have been very dedicated funders. Let’s give these people a little bit of credit because they’ve gone about taking over the government, moving the country to the extreme right and have accomplished it. One of their first steps decades ago was to create this network of propaganda mills that are commonly called the right-wing think tanks. Today we see Heritage, AEI, CEI, Cato, and these are really all due to the funding of these far-right foundations.

AMY GOODMAN: Hmm. In one of your final chapters, the final chapter, "Traitor Baiters," you go through a list of the charges of treason against various people. But maybe you can give us some of the examples of what happened and who is being called a traitor.

JOHN STAUBER: Sure. Sheldon, I’ll let you do that. But I want to preface it by saying, Amy, your program and the community stations have been some of the few media in this country who have highlighted this sort of repression.

SHELDON RAMPTON: Yeah. Well, all sorts of people, I mean people are familiar, for example, with the fact that the Dixie Chicks got yanked off the air by Clear Channel after they criticized President Bush publicly in the buildup to the war with Iraq. But, for example, in Tennessee, a State Senator–actually called for the deportation of critics of the war.

AMY GOODMAN: This was Tennessee State Senator Tim Burchett.

SHELDON RAMPTON: Right. He said to criticize the war is treason, not patriotism. They ought to be run out of the country and not allowed back. You see the theme of treason also constantly reflected in the books that the right produces things like Mona Charon’s book "Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong In The Cold War and Still Blame America" or Sean Hannity’s book "Deliver Us From Evil," subtitled, "Defeating Terrorism, Liberalism, and Despotism." Or Daniel Flynn’s "How The Left Hates America" and in terms of who he regards as the traitors. Here’s the list: He says many of these anti-Americans are at the same time teachers, professors, journalists, news reporters and even judges and politicians. That’s a fairly broad swath of the American population just right there.

AMY GOODMAN: Interesting comments about Noam Chomsky.

SHELDON RAMPTON: Chomsky also is a traitor according again to David Horowitz. Horowitz published a column calling him the most treacherous intellect in America saying disruption in this country is what the terrorists want and need and that is what the followers of Noam Chomsky intend to give them.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting when we go back to the headlines of today, something that Donald Rumsfeld said right now about if–how the war is going. Donald Rumsfeld saying if the U.S. fails in Iraq, it is not because of what took place on the battlefield, but how the media has portrayed it. He said, quote, this much is certain–coalition forces can not be defeated on the battlefield. The only way this effort could fail is if people were to be persuaded that the cause is lost or that it’s not worth the pain or if those who seem to measure progress in Iraq against a more perfect world convince others to throw in the towel. He’s really laying down the gauntlet here. He is saying it will be the press’ fault.

SHELDON RAMPTON: That’s interesting because, for example, William Odom, head of the national security agency under Reagan and is a conservative, has already declared that the war in Iraq has already been lost, and it’s just a matter of getting out as quickly as we can because there’s ultimately going to be no other alternative. That is a very conservative voice saying that. It is not the media. And–and what Rumsfeld is really doing when he makes a declaration like that is he’s demonstrating one of the premises that we make of our book, which is that this administration and the republican parties become so intensely ideological that it can brook no criticism and everything that ought to be acknowledged and heeded as a warning sign that things are not going right simply becomes more grist for the mill of their conspiracy theory, which is to suggest that all of these forces in American society, the media, all of the critics of the direction we’re headed in, are betraying the nation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Sheldon Rampton, John Stauber, "Banana Republicans" is the name of their book, "How The Right Wing Is Turning America Into A One-Party State." This is Democracy Now!

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