PHOENIX -- The demographic death spiral of the conservative movement has a laugh track. It was recorded live in Barry Goldwater's hometown on Saturday night, in front of a 1,000-person ballroom audience, during a banquet roast of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the gala conclusion to the annual Western Conservative Conference, known until last year as Western CPAC.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne laid down the basic comic framework for his fellow roasters, totaling a dozen conservative dignitaries of local and national reputation. "Apologies to the Civic Center," said Horne, "but half of the kitchen staff was arrested tonight upon arrival of Joe and his deputies. Because of a budget crunch, the sheriff's cutting way back. No more green baloney for prisoners -- just an extra beating at suppertime. Over the years, Joe's touched many people. We know because many are now pressing charges."
Chuckling throughout Horne's routine on stage next to Arpaio was Russell Pearce, a recalled state senator with a documented fondness for neo-Nazi websites, and the primary architect of Arizona's controversial immigration bill S.B. 1070. Pearce smiled as his one-time ally in the 1070 fight, Arizona State Rep. John Kavanagh, began his set asking, "How many Hispanics did you pull over on the way over here, Arpaio?" He later added, "All these years I figured he was rounding up Hispanics because you had a grudge from [fighting in] the Spanish-American War. But if you were in the Korean War, how come you're not rounding up Asians?" Kavanagh was doing a bit about the difficulties of dining out with Arpaio -- "When we go into a restaurant, most of the wait staff and cooks dive out the back window" -- when he spotted a passing waiter who appeared to be Hispanic holding a platter of stuffed chickens, and screamed, "There's a brave one! Get him! Sic 'em!"
The crowd roared; the waiter turned red. Thus did a day of strategy sessions on how to reclaim the White House and build a new conservative majority end with national movement leaders affectionately teasing a divisive deport-'em-all drug-war dinosaur, whose roast material revolved entirely around the three facts of his being old, sadistic, and having a bit of a brown-person problem. The Tea Party's loud rejection of immigration reform shows it has also refused the message of electoral emergency delivered by Barack Obama's 2012 victory map. But if anyone needed another reminder, they now have the image of Joe Arpaio receiving a "Medal of Freedom" award in recognition of his rough detainment and deportation techniques, and a taste for racial profiling so aggressive it has resulted in a federally appointed monitor in Maricopa County.
The man behind the Western Conservative Conference, Floyd Brown, has never been very good at helping the GOP build bridges. In 1988, he created the infamous "Willie Horton" ad that has dogged his party's outreach efforts ever since. But Brown's interests and achievements are more diverse than scorched-earth political advertising. He has been a Zelig-like presence on the right for the better part of three decades, zig-zagging his way through and connecting the worlds of conservative organizing, publishing, opposition research, campaigning, fundraising, marketing, and predatory investment advice.
A co-founder of Citizens United, Brown now runs a marketing company, Excellentia Inc., helping clients "achieve success in the conservative and Christian marketplace." He works as a traveling speaker for groups like the Oxford Group claiming to offer "insider" stock tips and advice. He also pushes gold coins and municipal bonds, sometimes in mutual exclusion of the other, depending on his audience.
All of which makes Brown a perfect impresario for today's conservative grassroots activist circuit, where organizing and politics can seem incidental to the interests of an interlocking constellation of thinly veiled data mining, fundraising, and precious metals operations. This was sometimes the case in Phoenix, where an older, nearly all-white group of activist-attendees from Western states paid $399 to train under the tutelage of organizers from Heritage Action and the Leadership Institute, as well as hear national figures pitch gold coins and radio shows. The bold-face names who appeared live or by video included Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Rick Perry, and embattled National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent, who was welcomed despite being under fire for racist attacks on President Obama.
Any look back at right-wing media milestones in 2011 would not be complete without an extended head shaking with regards to the birther comeback staged this year, courtesy of Fox News. Joining forces with reality TV host Donald Trump to resurrect a thoroughly discredited Obama smear campaign, the GOP Noise Machine, by embracing the birther story, provided an early indication of just how far removed from reality their pursuit to delegitimize the president would go this year.
What's also been fascinating is how partisans have used the debunked conspiracy theory to attack the president, while simultaneously insisting the rise of the birther story this year was proof of liberal media bias.
For instance, the Western Center For Journalism, which describes itself as a "Non Profit Organization dedicated to combating liberal media bias and government corruption" was founded by Joseph Farah, proprietor of leading birther website, WorldNetDaily. Recently, in its recent "top 50 examples of media bias" post, the Center perfectly captured the attempt by the conservative media to play both sides of this birther charade.
Number 27 on the list reads "Birthers." But how was the nonsensical far-right crusade to prove Obama isn't a natural born American citizen proof of liberal bias?
From a January 12 Western Journalism Center article:
The other day, we pointed out that a Western Journalism Center video claiming that Rachel Maddow's statement on "Meet the Press" that MoveOn.org never ran an ad comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler was a lie because the ad in question was not commissioned by MoveOn but, rather, a submission to a 2004 MoveOn contest that was taken down after controversy arose about it and never ran anywhere as a paid ad.
The WJC has now responded by calling us liars, accusing us of "splitting hairs" and asserting that it "never claimed the ad was run on commercial T.V. We consider posting the ad on its website to constitute 'running the ad.' "
So a submission to a contest that was (briefly) posted on a website is the exact same thing as buying airtime for it on commercial TV? Interesting redefinition of "running the ad."
That's not "splitting hairs" -- that's comparing apples and oranges.
Further, the WJC video remains a work of lying by omission: It presents the Bush-Hitler video but at no point does it explain that the ad was a contest submission, never ran as a paid ad, and that MoveOn itself said that "[w]e do not support the sentiment" in it. The WJC post accusing us of being liars doesn't mention that either.
The WJC should try telling the full truth instead of redefining words to fit previous lies.
The Western Journalism Center -- the recently reconstituted right-wing group best known for perpetuating Vince Foster conspiracy theories during the Clinton administration -- has posted a video titled "Rachel Maddow Lies about MoveON.org," which purports to debunk Maddow's claim during the August 16 edition of "Meet the Press" that MoveOn never ran an ad comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler.
But the WJC is the liar here. While the video includes a clip of something that appears to be a MoveOn ad comparing Bush to Hitler, at no point does the video note that it was submitted as part of a contest MoveOn ran in 2004 and never ran as a paid ad by MoveOn. Indeed, MoveOn specifically stated of that submission and a second similar one, "They will not appear on TV. We do not support the sentiment expressed in the two Hitler submissions." MoveOn later removed the ad from its website.
Most folks wouldn't have the courage to roll out such a ham-fisted piece of blatantly false agitprop, so the WJC has that going for it.