Israel Lobby Pays the Political Piper

Exclusive: The Israel Lobby is so powerful that for years it insisted it didn’t exist – and Official Washington went along with the lie. Today, President Trump scrambles to secure the lobby’s blessings, Jonathan Marshall observes.

By Jonathan Marshall (This is the third part of a series on foreign lobbying.)

In this age of rancorous hyper-partisanship, getting members of Congress to agree on anything beyond the naming of a post office is a challenge. Yet in late April, all 100 members of the U.S. Senate signed a tough letter to the U.N. Secretary General, demanding that the organization end its “unwarranted attacks” on Israel’s human rights record.

Three months earlier, members of the House voted overwhelmingly to condemn a U.N. Security Council resolution critical of Israel’s relentless expansion of settlements on occupied lands. Like dozens of other Democrats, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland blasted President Obama for abstaining from the U.N. vote, saying it “sent the wrong signal to our ally Israel.” In the Senate, leading progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders offered no support for President Obama, either.

Their votes and rhetoric did not simply reflect public opinion. Although Americans sympathize with Israel far more than the Palestinians, two-thirds of adults surveyed in in 2015 said the United States should not take sides in the Middle East conflict. Fewer than half say they consider Israel an ally.

Those congressional actions instead illustrated the power of the pro-Israel Lobby, a highly organized and well-funded coalition that works to give Israeli leaders freedom to operate with unquestioned U.S. diplomatic, economic and military support. Its influence helps account for the quarter trillion dollars in aid (adjusted for inflation) that the United States has given Israel since 1948.

When it comes to influencing American politics, Russia runs far behind highly motivated supporters of Israel. President Obama experienced that first hand when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, representing a state of just 8.6 million people, received rousing, bipartisan acclaim in no fewer than three addresses before Congress and nearly blocked approval of the Iran nuclear deal, perhaps the signature foreign policy initiative of Obama’s administration.

The pro-Israel Lobby has been the subject of much informal comment and a critical academic study by two of America’s most distinguished political scientists, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, an ardent disparager of their work, recently offered a backhanded acknowledgement of its thesis during a talk to an Orthodox synagogue in affluent Scarsdale, New York:

“People write a book called the Israel lobby and complain that AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. My response to that is, that’s not good enough. We should be the most powerful lobby in Washington. . . . We are entitled to use our power. We have contributed disproportionately to the success of this country. . . . We are a very influential community. We deserve our influence.”

Contrary to the implication of his remarks, however, AIPAC and similar organizations do not comprise an ethnic Jewish lobby, though major Jewish organizations are primary constituents. Many U.S. Jews either question Israeli government policies or have little interest in promoting them.

A 2013 Pew survey found that only 30 percent of American Jews were “very attached” emotionally to Israel, and a substantial plurality believed that continued building of Jewish settlements hurts Israel’s security. A large majority of Jews voted for President Obama, despite his strained relations with the Israeli government. Most American Jews also supported his nuclear deal with Iran, in defiance of most pro-Israel organizations.

Further reflecting the pro-Israel lobby’s political rather than ethnic focus, it derives much support from Christian Zionists, some of them outright anti-Semites, who believe that the return of Jews to Israel foreshadows the Second Coming of Christ.

The pro-Israel camp today features even the likes of White House counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka, “despite his controversial ties to allies of the Nazis,” and Austria’s Freedom Party, “a movement of anti-immigrant, right-wing nationalists founded in part by former Nazis.”

Follow the Money

Unlike most other foreign lobbies, the pro-Israel lobby draws much of its strength from grass-roots support. With little organized opposition, it can influence Congress more readily than better-funded business lobbies that face stiff competition. However, the single biggest source of its power is not voters — only a tiny percentage make Israel their top political priority — but campaign funds.

In a revealing comment, Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List confessed last year, “the money … is a big piece of this story and cannot be overlooked at all.”

“I have written more Israel papers that you can imagine,” she explained. “I’m from Montana. I barely knew where Israel was until I looked at a map, and the poor campaign manager would come in, or the policy director, and I’d be like, ‘Here is your paper on Israel. This is our policy.’ We’ve sent it all over the country because this is how we raise money. … This means that these candidates who were farmers, school teachers, or businesswomen, ended up having an Israel position without having any significant conversations with anybody.”

Hillary Clinton’s pandering to the pro-Israel lobby during the 2016 election — promising AIPAC that she would take relations with Israel “to the next level” and that she would meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during her first month in office — reflected her financial dependence on pro-Israel funders. Chief among them was billionaire donor Haim Saban, a hawkish Israeli-American who famously said, “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.”

New Yorker correspondent Connie Bruck reported that Saban, speaking at a 2009 conference in Israel, described the “three ways to be influential in American politics” as donating to political parties, creating think tanks, and buying up influential media.

“In 2002,” she observed, “he contributed seven million dollars toward the cost of a new building for the Democratic National Committee — one of the largest known donations ever made to an American political party. That year, he also founded the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, in Washington, D.C. He . . . tried to buy Time and Newsweek, . . . acquired Univision in 2007, and he has made repeated bids for the Los Angeles Times.”

Mother Jones reported that “After the launch of the Saban Center, the billionaire began pouring more and more of his fortune into Israeli causes. He donated $10 million to support the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. . . . He also made seven-figure gifts to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the hawkish Israeli lobbying group.”

Saban, who was invited to stay overnight in the Lincoln bedroom at the White House during Bill Clinton’s presidency, takes credit for helping launch Hillary Clinton’s run for that office as early as 2004. Over the years he hosted several lavish fundraisers for her, including a dinner in 2016. With an entry price of $100,000 per couple, it raised more than $5 million for Clinton’s campaign. Saban and his wife gave more than $10 million to a super-PAC that supported her as well.

And those donations don’t include the $7 million paid by the Saban Family Foundation to the Clinton Foundation during Hillary’s four-year stint in the Obama administration, the $30 million more that it pledged, the $5 million donation to the Clinton Library, or the $250,000 fee paid to Bill Clinton for a 15-minute promotional event in 2015.

The Republican Purse

As Israel pursues ever more extreme policies grounded in ethnic and religious nationalism, the pro-Israel lobby has become increasingly aligned with the Republican Party.

A recent national poll showed sympathy for Israel falling 10 points among Democrats to 33 percent from April 2016 to January 2017. In contrast, a near-record 74 percent of Republican now support Israel. Similarly, a Brookings poll last fall found that just over half of Democrats think that “the Israeli government has too much influence” in the United States, compared to just over a quarter of Republicans.

Republicans, who traditionally looked mainly to big oil, finance, real estate and other business sectors for campaign cash, increasingly rely on billionaires with a passion for Israel, such as Wall Street hedge fund owner Paul Singer, Florida auto dealer Norman Braman, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, and Hobby Lobby founder David Green (a Christian Zionist).

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, mulling over a potential presidential run in 2015, crassly told a reporter, “If I put together a finance team that will make me financially competitive enough to stay in this thing . . . I may have the first all-Jewish cabinet in America because of the pro-Israel funding. [Chuckles.] Bottom line is, I’ve got a lot of support from the pro-Israel funding.”

Graham earned that support the usual way — by promising to put Israel first. During an obligatory visit to Jerusalem the previous December, Graham, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Appropriations Subcommittee, promised Netanyahu that “Congress will follow your lead” on imposing economic sanctions against Iran.

The most notable among the pro-Israel GOP mega-donors is Sheldon Adelson. Blurring the lines between American supporters and Israeli leaders, Adelson also spent millions to buy an election for the American-educated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party.

Adelson, an ideological ally of Netanyahu, reportedly called the Palestinians “an invented people” whose “purpose … is to destroy Israel,” and advocated vaporizing Tehran if necessary to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. Adelson captured the Republican Party’s attention in 2012 by contributing an astonishing $150 million to conservative candidates in that election, including Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

Romney, who promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem “if Israel’s leaders thought that a move of that nature would be helpful to their efforts,” also won the favor of Netanyahu’s closest political adviser, the American-born Ron Dermer.

Dermer also liked Gingrich. As a young man, before taking Israeli citizenship, Dermer helped the House Speaker promote his 1994 “Contract With America.”

Dermer became Israel’s ambassador to Washington in 2013. The following year, in a blatant violation of diplomatic protocol, he attended a series of GOP candidate screening sessions held by Adelson in Las Vegas, which became known as the “Adelson primary.”

The same year, Ambassador Dermer publicly endorsed Netanyahu’s reelection as prime minister, for which he was reprimanded by Israel’s Civil Service Commission. He then went on in 2015 to arrange the infamous invitation from Republican leaders to Netanyahu to address Congress on the perils of dealing with Iran, a speech that was arranged without consulting the White House.

Onward with Donald Trump

Through Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, a major contributor to AIPAC, Dermer influenced the Republican candidate’s tough speech to that organization during the 2016 campaign. AIPAC attendees cheered when Trump applauded the end of President Obama’s administration and called him “maybe the worst thing to ever happen to Israel.”

Adelson soon endorsed Trump in an email to dozens of Republican Jewish donors, saying “he will be a tremendous president when it comes to the safety and security of Israel.” Playing the odds shrewdly, Adelson donated $35 million or more to the Trump campaign.

Israel and its U.S. supporters have since discovered, like everyone else, that Trump is mercurial and not easily managed. After swearing fealty to the Jewish state during the campaign, he has put the brakes on his promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, called for restraint on further building of settlements, and met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

On the other hand, he appointed the most right-wing, pro-settlements ambassador in history, and will make Israel the second foreign visit of his presidency, just after Saudi Arabia.

Far more important to the Netanyahu government, and to its neoconservative supporters in the United States, is the fact that Trump has surrounded himself with anti-Iran hardliners. He himself has falsely called into question Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement, contrary to the State Department’s own certification.

As Brookings analyst Suzanne Maloney commented recently, “Donald Trump has the Islamic Republic of Iran in his sights . . . neither restraint nor continuity on Iran is really in the offing. . . . Trump has elevated a national security team that shares an Iran-centric interpretation of the problems that plague the Middle East and threaten vital American interests there. . . . The Trump administration has begun to replace accommodation with confrontation as the guiding principle of U.S. policy toward Tehran, seeking to counter Iran through a multi-front campaign of diplomatic, economic, and military pressure.”

No one, presumably including Trump himself, can predict where this hostility will lead. But the hard-liners in Israel and the United States who lost out to President Obama on Iran — their first significant defeat in many years — are back in the saddle. Never count the pro-Israel lobby out.

[This is the third in a series on foreign lobbying. The previous installments were “The Open Secret of Foreign Lobbying” and “How China Lobby Shaped America.” Next: The Saudi Lobby.]

Jonathan Marshall is a regular contributor to

Why Not a Probe of ‘Israel-gate’?

Special Report: As Official Washington fumes about Russia-gate, Israel’s far more significant political-influence-and-propaganda campaigns are ignored. No one dares suggest a probe of Israel-gate, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The other day, I asked a longtime Democratic Party insider who is working on the Russia-gate investigation which country interfered more in U.S. politics, Russia or Israel. Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied, “Israel, of course.”

Which underscores my concern about the hysteria raging across Official Washington about “Russian meddling” in the 2016 presidential campaign: There is no proportionality applied to the question of foreign interference in U.S. politics. If there were, we would have a far more substantive investigation of Israel-gate.

The problem is that if anyone mentions the truth about Israel’s clout, the person is immediately smeared as “anti-Semitic” and targeted by Israel’s extraordinarily sophisticated lobby and its many media/political allies for vilification and marginalization.

So, the open secret of Israeli influence is studiously ignored, even as presidential candidates prostrate themselves before the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both appeared before AIPAC in 2016, with Clinton promising to take the U.S.-Israeli relationship “to the next level” – whatever that meant – and Trump vowing not to “pander” and then pandering like crazy.

Congress is no different. It has given Israel’s controversial Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a record-tying three invitations to address joint sessions of Congress (matching the number of times British Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared). We then witnessed the Republicans and Democrats competing to see how often their members could bounce up and down and who could cheer Netanyahu the loudest, even when the Israeli prime minister was instructing the Congress to follow his position on Iran rather than President Obama’s.

Israeli officials and AIPAC also coordinate their strategies to maximize political influence, which is derived in large part by who gets the lobby’s largesse and who doesn’t. On the rare occasion when members of Congress step out of line – and take a stand that offends Israeli leaders – they can expect a well-funded opponent in their next race, a tactic that dates back decades.

Well-respected members, such as Rep. Paul Findley and Sen. Charles Percy (both Republicans from Illinois), were early victims of the Israeli lobby’s wrath when they opened channels of communication with the Palestine Liberation Organization in the cause of seeking peace. Findley was targeted and defeated in 1982; Percy in 1984.

Findley recounted his experience in a 1985 book, They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby, in which Findley called the lobby “the 700-pound gorilla in Washington.” The book was harshly criticized in a New York Times review by Adam Clymer, who called it “an angry, one-sided book that seems often to be little more than a stringing together of stray incidents.”

Enforced Silence

Since then, there have been fewer and fewer members of Congress or other American politicians who have dared to speak out, judging that – when it comes to the Israeli lobby – discretion is the better part of valor. Today, many U.S. pols grovel before the Israeli government seeking a sign of favor from Prime Minister Netanyahu, almost like Medieval kings courting the blessings of the Pope at the Vatican.

During the 2008 campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama, whom Netanyahu viewed with suspicion, traveled to Israel to demonstrate sympathy for Israelis within rocket-range of Gaza while steering clear of showing much empathy for the Palestinians.

In 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney tried to exploit the tense Obama-Netanyahu relationship by stopping in Israel to win a tacit endorsement from Netanyahu. The 2016 campaign was no exception with both Clinton and Trump stressing their love of Israel in their appearances before AIPAC.

Money, of course, has become the lifeblood of American politics – and American supporters of Israel have been particularly strategic in how they have exploited that reality.

One of Israel’s most devoted advocates, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, has poured millions of dollars in “dark money” into political candidates and groups that support Israel’s interests. Adelson, who has advocated dropping a nuclear bomb inside Iran to coerce its government, is a Trump favorite having donated a record $5 million to Trump’s inaugural celebration.

Of course, many Israel-connected political donations are much smaller but no less influential. A quarter century ago, I was told how an aide to a Democratic foreign policy chairman, who faced a surprisingly tough race after redistricting, turned to the head of AIPAC for help and, almost overnight, donations were pouring in from all over the country. The chairman was most thankful.

The October Surprise Mystery

Israel’s involvement in U.S. politics also can be covert. For instance, the evidence is now overwhelming that the Israeli government of right-wing Prime Minister Menachem Begin played a key role in helping Ronald Reagan’s campaign in 1980 strike a deal with Iran to frustrate President Jimmy Carter’s efforts to free 52 American hostages before Election Day.

Begin despised Carter for the Camp David Accords that forced Israel to give back the Sinai to Egypt. Begin also believed that Carter was too sympathetic to the Palestinians and – if he won a second term – would conspire with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to impose a two-state solution on Israel.

Begin’s contempt for Carter was not even a secret. In a 1991 book, The Last Option, senior Israeli intelligence and foreign policy official David Kimche explained Begin’s motive for dreading Carter’s reelection. Kimche said Israeli officials had gotten wind of “collusion” between Carter and Sadat “to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Kimche continued, “This plan prepared behind Israel’s back and without her knowledge must rank as a unique attempt in United States’s diplomatic history of short-changing a friend and ally by deceit and manipulation.”

But Begin recognized that the scheme required Carter winning a second term in 1980 when, Kimche wrote, “he would be free to compel Israel to accept a settlement of the Palestinian problem on his and Egyptian terms, without having to fear the backlash of the American Jewish lobby.”

In a 1992 memoir, Profits of War, former Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe also noted that Begin and other Likud leaders held Carter in contempt.

“Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,” Ben-Menashe wrote. “As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel’s back.”

So, in order to buy time for Israel to “change the facts on the ground” by moving Jewish settlers into the West Bank, Begin felt Carter’s reelection had to be prevented. A different president also presumably would give Israel a freer hand to deal with problems on its northern border with Lebanon.

Ben-Menashe was among a couple of dozen government officials and intelligence operatives who described how Reagan’s campaign, mostly through future CIA Director William Casey and past CIA Director George H.W. Bush, struck a deal in 1980 with senior Iranians who got promises of arms via Israel in exchange for keeping the hostages through the election and thus humiliating Carter. (The hostages were finally released on Jan. 20, 1981, after Reagan was sworn in as President.)

Discrediting History

Though the evidence of the so-called October Surprise deal is far stronger than the current case for believing that Russia colluded with the Trump campaign, Official Washington and the mainstream U.S. media have refused to accept it, deeming it a “conspiracy theory.”

One of the reasons for the hostility directed against the 1980 case was the link to Israel, which did not want its hand in manipulating the election of a U.S. president to become an accepted part of American history. So, for instance, the Israeli government went to great lengths to discredit Ben-Menashe after he began to speak with reporters and to give testimony to the U.S. Congress.

When I was a Newsweek correspondent and first interviewed Ben-Menashe in 1990, the Israeli government initially insisted that he was an impostor, that he had no connection to Israeli intelligence.

However, when I obtained documentary evidence of Ben-Menashe’s work for a military intelligence unit, the Israelis admitted that they had lied but then insisted that he was just a low-level translator, a claim that was further contradicted by other documents showing that he had traveled widely around the world on missions to obtain weapons for the Israel-to-Iran arms pipeline.

Nevertheless, the Israeli government along with sympathetic American reporters and members of the U.S. Congress managed to shut down any serious investigation into the 1980 operation, which was, in effect, the prequel to Reagan’s Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal of 1984-86. Thus, U.S. history was miswritten. [For more details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen NarrativeSecrecy & Privilege; and Trick or Treason.]

Looking back over the history of U.S.-Israeli relations, it is clear that Israel exercised significant influence over U.S. presidents since its founding in 1948, but the rise of Israel’s right-wing Likud Party in the 1970s – led by former Jewish terrorists Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir – marked a time when Israel shed any inhibitions about interfering directly in U.S. politics.

Much as Begin and Shamir engaged in terror attacks on British officials and Palestinian civilians during Israel’s founding era, the Likudniks who held power in 1980 believed that the Zionist cause trumped normal restraints on their actions. In other words, the ends justified the means.

In the 1980s, Israel also mounted spying operations aimed at the U.S. government, including those of intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard, who fed highly sensitive documents to Israel and – after being caught and spending almost three decades in prison – was paroled and welcomed as a hero inside Israel.

A History of Interference

But it is true that foreign interference in U.S. politics is as old as the American Republic. In the 1790s, French agents – working with the Jeffersonians – tried to rally Americans behind France’s cause in its conflict with Great Britain. In part to frustrate the French operation, the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts.

In the Twentieth Century, Great Britain undertook covert influence operations to ensure U.S. support in its conflicts with Germany, while German agents unsuccessfully sought the opposite.

So, the attempts by erstwhile allies and sometimes adversaries to move U.S. foreign policy in one direction or another is nothing new, and the U.S. government engages in similar operations in countries all over the world, both overtly and covertly.

It was the CIA’s job for decades to use propaganda and dirty tricks to ensure that pro-U.S. politicians were elected or put in power in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa, pretty much everywhere the U.S. government perceived some interest. After the U.S. intelligence scandals of the 1970s, however, some of that responsibility was passed to other organizations, such as the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

NED, USAID and various “non-governmental organizations” (NGOs) finance activists, journalists and other operatives to undermine political leaders who are deemed to be obstacles to U.S. foreign policy desires.

In particular, NED has been at the center of efforts to flip elections to U.S.-backed candidates, such as in Nicaragua in 1990, or to sponsor “color revolutions,” which typically organize around some color as the symbol for mass demonstrations. Ukraine – on Russia’s border – has been the target of two such operations, the Orange Revolution in 2004, which helped install anti-Russian President Viktor Yushchenko, and the Maidan ouster of elected pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.

NED president Carl Gershman, a neoconservative who has run NED since its founding in 1983, openly declared that Ukraine was “the biggest prize” in September 2013 — just months before the Maidan protests — as well as calling it an important step toward ousting Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2016, Gershman called directly for regime change in Russia.

The Neoconservatives

Another key issue related to Israeli influence inside the United States is the role of the neocons, a political movement that emerged in the 1970s as a number of hawkish Democrats migrated to the Republican Party as a home for more aggressive policies to protect Israel and take on the Soviet Union and Arab states.

In some European circles, the neocons are described as “Israel’s American agents,” which may somewhat overstate the direct linkage between Israel and the neocons although a central tenet of neocon thinking is that there must be no daylight between the U.S. and Israel. The neocons say U.S. politicians must stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel even if that means the Americans sidling up to the Israelis rather than any movement the other way.

Since the mid-1990s, American neocons have worked closely with Benjamin Netanyahu. Several prominent neocons (including former Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser, Meyrav Wurmser and Robert Loewenberg) advised Netanyahu’s 1996 campaign and urged a new strategy for “securing the realm.” Essentially, the idea was to replace negotiations with the Palestinians and Arab states with “regime change” for governments that were viewed as troublesome to Israel, including Iraq and Syria.

By 1998, the Project for the New American Century (led by neocons William Kristol and Robert Kagan) was pressuring President Bill Clinton to invade Iraq, a plan that was finally put in motion in 2003 under President George W. Bush.

But the follow-on plans to go after Syria and Iran were delayed because the Iraq War turned into a bloody mess, killing some 4,500 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Bush could not turn to phase two until near the end of his presidency and then was frustrated by a U.S. intelligence estimate concluding that Iran was not working on a nuclear bomb (which was to be the pretext for a bombing campaign).

Bush also could pursue “regime change” in Syria only as a proxy effort of subversion, rather than a full-scale U.S. invasion. President Barack Obama escalated the Syrian proxy war in 2011 with the support of Israel and its strange-bedfellow allies in Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni-ruled Gulf States, which hated Syria’s government because it was allied with Shiite-ruled Iran — and Sunnis and Shiites have been enemies since the Seventh Century. Israel insists that the U.S. take the Sunni side, even if that puts the U.S. in bed with Al Qaeda.

But Obama dragged his heels on a larger U.S. military intervention in Syria and angered Netanyahu further by negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program rather than bomb-bomb-bombing Iran.

Showing the Love

Obama’s perceived half-hearted commitment to Israeli interests explained Romney’s campaign 2012 trip to seek Netanyahu’s blessings. Even after winning a second term, Obama sought to appease Netanyahu by undertaking a three-day trip to Israel in 2013 to show his love.

Still, in 2015, when Obama pressed ahead with the Iran nuclear agreement, Netanyahu went over the President’s head directly to Congress where he was warmly received, although the Israeli prime minister ultimately failed to sink the Iran deal.

In Campaign 2016, both Clinton and Trump wore their love for Israel on their sleeves, Clinton promising to take the relationship to “the next level” (a phrase that young couples often use when deciding to go from heavy petting to intercourse). Trump reminded AIPAC that he had a Jewish grandchild and vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Both also bristled with hatred toward Iran, repeating the popular falsehood that “Iran is the principal source of terrorism” when it is Saudi Arabia and other Sunni sheikdoms that have been the financial and military supporters of Al Qaeda and Islamic State, the terror groups most threatening to Europe and the United States.

By contrast to Israel’s long history of playing games with U.S. politics, the Russian government stands accused of trying to undermine the U.S. political process recently by hacking into emails of the Democratic National Committee — revealing the DNC’s improper opposition to Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign — and of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta — disclosing the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street and pay-to-play aspects of the Clinton Foundation — and sharing that information with the American people via WikiLeaks.

Although WikiLeaks denies getting the two batches of emails from the Russians, the U.S. intelligence community says it has high confidence in its conclusions about Russian meddling and the mainstream U.S. media treats the allegations as flat-fact.

The U.S. intelligence community also has accused the Russian government of raising doubts in the minds of Americans about their political system by having RT, the Russian-sponsored news network, hold debates for third-party candidates (who were excluded from the two-party Republican-Democratic debates) and by having RT report on protests such as Occupy Wall Street and issues such as “fracking.”

The major U.S. news media and Congress seem to agree that the only remaining question is whether evidence can be adduced showing that the Trump campaign colluded in this Russian operation. For that purpose, a number of people associated with the Trump campaign are to be hauled before Congress and made to testify on whether or not they are Russian agents.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post, The New York Times and other establishment-approved outlets are working with major technology companies on how to marginalize independent news sources and to purge “Russian propaganda” (often conflated with “fake news”) from the Internet.

It seems that no extreme is too extreme to protect the American people from the insidious Russians and their Russia-gate schemes to sow doubt about the U.S. political process. But God forbid if anyone were to suggest an investigation of Israel-gate.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

How GOP Gerrymanders Away Democracy

Amid America’s demographic changes, Republicans have exploited every trick they can think of to stave off actual democracy, where every vote is respected and equal. One scheme has been to modernize the old practice of “gerrymandering,” as Beverly Bandler explains.

Beverly Bandler

In Election 2012, Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the U.S. House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234-to-201 margin. Thus, the second-biggest GOP majority in 60 years was not the will of American voters. It was gerrymandered.

Or, as Republican strategist Karl Rove has said, “He who controls redistricting can control Congress.”

Gerrymandering has become the preferred way for Republicans to defy the principle of majority rule or democracy in an era in which whites are declining as a percentage of the electorate. In other words, it’s a way to reduce the political influence of people of color as well as that of white demographic groups that tend to vote Democratic.

“Politicians, especially Republicans facing demographic and ideological changes in the electorate, use redistricting to cling to power,” said Sam Wang, co-founder along with Andrew Ferguson of the Princeton Election Consortium blog. “It’s up to us to take control of the process, slay the gerrymander, and put the people back in charge of what is, after all, our House.”

As Wang points out. “gerrymandering is not hard,” nor is the concept particularly complicated: “The core technique is to jam voters likely to favor your opponents into a few throwaway districts where the other side will win lopsided victories, a strategy known as ‘packing.’ Arrange other boundaries to win close victories, ‘cracking’ opposition groups into many districts.”

The word “Gerry-Mander” dates back to 1812 and the efforts of the Massachusetts legislature to favor Gov. Elbridge Gerry and Democratic-Republican party candidates over the Federalists through redistricting. The word “gerrymander” was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette on March 26, 1812.

The principal opportunity for gerrymandering comes every ten years when the national census is taken, and city council, state legislature and congressional district boundaries are redrawn to reflect the growing and shifting population.

Though redistricting is supposed to protect the fundamental principle of one-person-one-vote, it is possible through artful drawing of district boundaries to thwart the democratic process by making sure that large groups of voters are on the losing side of every election.

“Gerrymandering refers to the manipulation of district lines to protect or change political power,” states the Brennan Center for Justice. “Any change in district lines affects politics but a gerrymander is a deliberate and, according to opponents, unfair attempt to draw district lines to increase the likelihood of a particular political result.

“Incumbents, for example, have an incentive to create districts that are likely to re-elect them, sometimes dividing communities among one or more districts when a single district containing the entire community would better represent their interests.”

Secret Process

This redistricting process currently takes place behind closed doors by legislators, politicians and political consultants. The United States is the only advanced democracy in which politicians directly participate in the redistricting process, although some states, such as California, have turned the process over to non-partisan commissions.

Across much of the country, however, redistricting “artists” work with political partisans, corporations and other special interests to creatively shape districts to thwart the will of the people. It is an anti-democratic game that both Democrats and Republicans have played, but the unabashed ruthlessness of the GOP in recent years has been chilling.

“Gerrymandering” also has gotten more scientific. In the old days, it relied on the judgment of politicians to gauge the leanings of each community. In modern times, computer analyses have allowed politicians to become much more precise in how the districts can be best arranged for electoral advantage.

Over the past few years, as the Republican Party has gained control over more state legislatures than Democrats, the GOP “has turned redistricting into a finely-honed, well-financed project that has virtually insured their control over the House,” said Bill Berkowitz, who reports on right-wing strategies.

That has meant that in many states — the once-a-decade redistricting process has let lawmakers choose voters, not voters choose lawmakers. On the national level, to a troubling degree, American voters no longer collectively select the make-up of the House of Representatives. Rather, the state legislators who design the districts do.

Then, by combining sophisticated gerrymandering with “voter ID” laws and other “voter suppression” efforts, the Republicans ensure that their voting “base” is represented disproportionately in the halls of government a fundamental violation of the core principle of democracy that each vote should count equally.

In this way, Americans are given the optical illusion of a democratic process. Elections are held; votes are counted; victors are declared. But the contest is essentially rigged at the start by meticulously crafting the congressional or other district.

Feeding the Base

Most districts now are one-party fiefdoms. The real battles often rage in primaries, which pull congressional representatives to the ideological fringes and leads to a House of Representatives that does not reflect the values of the general population.

“Every postelection poll, with the possible exception of any conducted in Dick Morris’s bunker, finds that voters favor the Democrats’ positions, on virtually every major issue,” noted New York magazine essayist Frank Rich, “usually by large margins: immigration reform, gun restrictions, abortion rights, gay marriage, climate change, raising the minimum wage, and the need for higher tax revenue to accompany spending cuts in any deficit-reduction plan.”

Why do we have a regressive House that fights what the general population reportedly wants? In part, because when voters gave Republicans temporary control of a number of state legislatures in 2010, those GOP lawmakers drew legislative maps that locked in Republican gains in the once-in-a-decade redistricting process.

Many of President Barack Obama’s 2008 voters didn’t show up at the polls in 2010 because they thought only presidential elections were worth the effort, or they were discouraged by the government gridlock that the Republicans had cynically engineered to thwart much of Obama’s agenda.

The result of the 2010 election was to give Republicans across the country the reins to control much of the redistricting process and they seized the opportunity with a vengeance. In Ohio, for instance, the GOP legislature fashioned a congressional district that began in Cleveland and stretched narrowly along the shore of Lake Erie across the length of the state to Toledo, thus dooming the congressional career of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (of Cleveland) by matching him up against Rep. Marcy Kaptur (of Toledo), both Democrats.

The Republican skill at gerrymandering has been an art form that the party has been refining for years. In the 1990 redistricting cycle, a Massachusetts Republican named Dan Winslow, a lawyer (legal counsel to Gov. Mitt Romney between 2002 and 2005) and politician (State Representative, 2011-2013), recognized the potential of redistricting, reported ProPublica.

Winslow pursued permission from state election officials for a group called the Republican Redistricting Committee for unlimited and undisclosed corporate donations. He drew strategic lessons that were undoubtedly shared with other party operatives. The GOP gained somewhere between 25 and 30 seats because of the redistricting that followed the 1990 census.

According to Republican strategist Rove, without those seats, Republicans would not have won control of the House in 1994. Since then, Republicans have honed their skills and developed a long-term strategy of winning statehouses in order to control each state’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process.

Pivotal Year

The year 2010 was pivotal. The Republican redistricting strategy for that target year was spearheaded by a group called the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which began to work in 2002.

Between 2002 and 2010, the RSLC was primarily a vehicle for donors like health care and tobacco companies to influence state legislatures, key battle grounds for regulations that affect corporate America,” according to ProPublica.

“Its focus changed in 2010 when Ed Gillespie, former counselor to President George W. Bush, was named chairman. His main project: redistricting,” ProPublica reported. Soon after Gillespie took over, the RSLC announced an effort to influence state races throughout the country, the Redistricting Majority Project, or REDMAP. Fundraising soared. The group raised $30 million in 2010, by far its best year. By contrast, its Democratic counterpart raised roughly $10 million.

The GOP approach paid off. In 2010 state races, Republicans picked up 675 legislative seats, gaining complete control of 12 state legislatures. As a result, the GOP oversaw redrawing of lines for four times as many congressional districts as Democrats.

Thus, House Republicans are significantly shielded from the will of the American majority. They can lose the popular vote as they did in 2012 by 1.4 million votes and still retain a substantial majority of congressional seats.

“Despite the fact that Republican Congressional candidates received nearly 1.4 million fewer votes than Democratic candidates,” said political reporter Tim Dickinson, “the Republicans lost only eight seats from their historic 2010 romp, allowing them to preserve a fat 33-seat edge in the House. Unscrupulous Republican gerrymandering following the 2010 census made the difference, according to a statistical analysis conducted by the Princeton Election Consortium.”

Had the 2012 elections been run in 2008 congressional districts, the Democrats would have won the House back, former Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, pointed out to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

Imposing Gridlock  

Then, by using extreme legislative tactics everything from a record number of Senate filibusters to extortion over raising the debt ceiling the Republicans blocked legislation that most Americans favor, from comprehensive immigration reform and common-sense gun laws to a higher minimum wage and investment in job-creating infrastructure projects. Ignoring their lack of a popular mandate, Republicans even have taken aim at progressive reforms that were enacted in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“Partisan gerrymandering skews not only the positions congressmen take but also who the candidates are in the first place,” said American law professor Samuel Issacharoff. “You get more ideological candidates, the people who can arouse the base of the party, because they don’t have to worry about electability. It’s becoming harder to get things done, whether in Congress or in state legislature, because partisan redistricting goes on at the state level, too.”

As for the 2014 elections, only a relatively small number of the 435 House seats are considered competitive, the effects of both gerrymandering and incumbency.  A majority of House members, 262 out of 435, are considered in such safe districts that they are expected to win by at least 16 points. It appears that basically only 45 House seats (25 Democratic seats; 20 Republican seats) will actually be in play in November 2014 or about ten percent of the total.

The combination of Republican tactics which also includes cultivating the financial largesse of right-wing business interests has led some analysts to suggest that the GOP’s goal is to cement a kind of “permanent majority” in the House of Representatives.

Republicans boast that they “have an opportunity to create 20-25 new Republican Congressional Districts through the redistricting process over the next five election cycles, solidifying a Republican House majority,” according to their multi-year Redmap plan.

But that is only part of the scheme, which also seeks to use voter suppression strategies to minimize the electoral impact of racial minorities and other groups that tend to vote Democratic.

“Stung by back-to-back defeats to Barack Obama, the Republican Party is undertaking a national strategy to devalue the votes of blacks and other minorities, a partial revival of the infamous clause in the U.S. Constitution rating African-American slaves as ‘Three-Fifths’ of a person,” wrote investigative reporter Robert Parry.

“The goal is to give future Republican presidential candidates a thumb-on-the-scale advantage in seeking the White House, as well as to assure continued Republican control of the House of Representatives.” Parry said the GOP approach reflects the opinion of many right-wing whites that the electoral judgments of “Real Americans,” i.e. them, should count more than the opinions of the “Other Americans.”

What to Do

Election reformers argue that an important first step in protecting democracy is to take away redistricting from politicians, political parties and special interests and give the responsibility to non-partisan commissions.

First, let’s establish nonpartisan redistricting commissions in all 50 states,” suggests Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium blog. “Second, we need to adopt a statistically robust judicial standard for partisan gerrymandering” so that it’s clear when gerrymandering is taking place.

Some scholars caution against viewing gerrymandering as the core of the problem. Brookings Senior Fellows Thomas Mann and William Galston have stated that: “contrary to widespread belief, reducing the gerrymandering of congressional districts would only make a small dent in the problem.”

Still, even if redistricting is only a “dent” in the U.S. democratic process, it is a dent worth fixing and a dent about which Americans need to be educated. Voters should have clear choices upon which to make their decisions, and they should not feel their vote is worthless because the game is rigged.

The redistricting system should be fair and non-partisan, one that reflects accountability, transparency and competition and ensures that communities are fully represented in the legislature. The political gamesmanship should end.

Beverly Bandler’s public affairs career spans some 40 years. Her credentials include serving as president of the state-level League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands and extensive public education efforts in the Washington, D.C. area for 16 years. She writes from Mexico. As full disclosure, she notes that she considers herself a member of the “Democratic wing” of the Democratic Party, but a U.S. citizen first.



AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project

Advancement Project

Annenberg Classroom .

Asian American Center for Advancing Justice

Ballotpedia: Redistricting

Brennan Center for Justice on Redistricting  


Center for Urban Research

Constitution Project.  

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)

Department of Justice 

Election Law Blog 

FairPlan 2020


Lawyers’ Committee Voting Rights Project

League of Women Voters of the U.S.  

Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America (MALDEF)   

Michael McDonald US Elections Project 

Midwest Democracy Network 

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

NALEO Education Fund 

National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)

Pew Center on the States

Princeton Election Consortium

Prisoners of the Census

Public Mapping Project

Redistricting Game

Redistricting Online

Rose Institute of State and Local Government


Find your congressional district and representative

Videos & Films.

CGP Grey. “Gerrymandering Explained.” 2011-07-12.

Constitution Project.  “One Person, One Vote.”

Gerrymandering 101. Video. End Gerrymandering the Movie intro.

Maddow, Rachel. “Why Republicans Lost to Obama.” Includes Barney Frank interview.

_______”The GOP’s ‘Redmap’ memo.” 2013-01-15.  “The Redistricting Game.” Interactive: Play the Game. Created at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Game Innovation Lab for the USC Annenberg Center for Communications.

Reichert, Jeff.  “Gerrymandering.” A documentary film. A 77-min. film available in its entirety courtesy of SnagFilms.

Sources and Suggested Reading

Azavea.  “Redrawing the Map on Redistricting 2012.”   “Redistricting the Nation.” 2010. A National Study. White Paper. 2009.

Baumann, Nick.  “The Republican Decade? Think Tuesday was bad? Wait ’til Republicans get to redraw the electoral map.” MotherJones, 2010-11-05.

Berkowitz, Bill.  “GOP Redistricting Project Sealed Control of the House.” Buzzflash/Truthout, 2012-12-26.

Berman, Ari.  “How the GOP is Resegregating the South.” Berman points out that redistricting, as conducted in North Carolina, is an extension of the GOP’s Southern Strategy in an “attempt to turn this racially integrated swing state into a GOP bastion, with white Republicans in the majority and black Democrats in the minority for the next decade.” The Nation,  2012001-31.

Brennan Center for Justice.  “Seven Things to Know About Redistricting.” 2013-10-28.  “Redistricting for Advocates.” 2012-06-27.    See “Citizen’s Guide to Redistricting” by Justin Levitt.

Brin, David.  “A modest proposal to neutralize gerrymandering.” Creating “ghetto” districts for minority parties has hurt our democracy. Here’s one way to fight back. Salon, 2013-10-20.

Cohn, Nate.  “Gerrymandering Still Isn’t to Blame for the Shutdown.” New Republic, 2013-10-14.

Columbia Law School.  “Draw Congress: Redistricting and Gerrymandering.” A nonpartisan map of all 435 congressional districts in the nation has never been drawn. The widespread diffusion of redistricting technology and data and the training of a group of students dedicated to that purpose has made such a map possible for the first time. represents the first attempt to create an internet depository for nonpartisan congressional maps for the entire country.

Cillizza, Chris.   “Did Republican gerrymandering cause the government shutdown?” WashingtonPost,  2013-10-09.

Congressional Quarterly Researcher.  “Redistricting Debates.” Will new reforms limit gerrymandering?  2011-02-25.

Daily Kos. “How Gerrymandering Works.” Chloris Creator. 2013-01-18.

Davidson, Lawrence.  “The Whys of American Ignorance.” ConsortiumNews, 2013-04-06.

Dickinson, Tim.   “How Republicans Rig the Game.” Rollingstone, 2013-11-11. Through gerrymandering, voter suppression and legislative tricks, the GOP has managed to hold on topower while more and more Americans reject their candidates and their ideas.

Digby.  “Gerrymandering: Corporate-Sponsored Redistricting Spreads, Threatening the Voting Process.” Hullabaloo, 2011-09-26.

Dionne Jr., E.J.  Why Americans Hate Politics. Simon & Schuster (June 1, 2004).

Drew, Elizabeth.  “The Stranglehold on Our Politics.” New York Review of Books, 2013-09-26.

_______“Are the Republicans Beyond Saving?” New York Review of Books, 2013-03-21. 

Drum, Kevin.  “Who Gerrymanders More, Democrats or Republicans?” MotherJones, 2013-01-03.

Economist.  “Gerrymandering. How can Republicans be both safe and more numerous?” 2013-10-03.

FairVote. Center for Voting and Democracy:

         “Fair Voting 2012.” Comprised of the Fair Voting Interactive Map, Fair Voting Plans for 50 States, and supporting analysis and documentation. Presents a new way of electing the U.S. House of Representatives, a solution aimed to correct the political impasse reinforced by the current winner-take-all system, instituting instead a system of proportional representation, founded in ourAmerican electoral traditions. Fair Voting Plans for 50 states.

“Fair Voting Solution.” The report includes projections for every district in the country in the 2014 mid-term House elections, in-depth analysis of the problems with American congressional elections as they are, and Fair Vote’s 50-state plan for electing Congress under a fair representation voting system that could be enacted by Congress.

“Monopoly politics 2014 and the Fair Voting Solution.” 2013-11-07.

“Congressional Vulnerability.” Interactive map showing where elections are truly competitive.

Frankel, Matthew.  “U.S. Congress: Gerrymandering is the Problem.” Brookings, 2010-06-15.

Galston, William A. and Thomas E. Mann.  “Republicans Slide Right: The Parties Aren’t Equally To Blame for Washington’s Schism.”

Geier, Kathleen.  “Why are the Democrats underrepresented in the House? It’s (mostly) the geography, stupid!”  [Includes some excellent political scientist references.] Washington Monthly, 2012-11-17. php 

Greenpeace.  “The Lewis Powell Memo” – Corporate Blueprint to Dominate Democracy Blogpost by Charlie Cray – August 23, 2011

Grofman, Bernard, ed.  Political Gerrymandering and the Courts. Algora Publishing (March 3, 2008).

Isenstadt, Alex.  “GOP could pay price for gerrymandering.” Politico, 2013-07-01.

Iyer, Sundeep and Keesha Gaskins.  “Why We Need Redistricting Reform.” Brennan Center for Justice,  2012-11-20. 

Judis, John B.  “The Return of the Republicans.” New Republic, 2011-01-13. 

Lakoff, George.  “What Conservatives Really Want.” The Huffington Post, 2011-02-19.

League of Women Voters of California.  “When the People Draw the Lines.” California’s first citizen-led redistricting commission “provides an in-depth analysis of the state’s closely-watched 2011 redistricting process and shares new public opinion data about voters’ impressions of the commission. We also believe that the 2011 efforts of California’s CRC provide important lessons learned for other states exploring redistricting reform.”

League of Women Voters of the U.S.   Shining a Light: Redistricting Lessons Learned in 2011. Whitepaper. Download.pdf

Lemann, Nicholas.  Profile: “The Controller.” Karl Rove is working to get George Bush reëlected, but he has bigger plans. New Yorker, 2003-05-12.

Levitt, Justin.  “A Citizen’s Guide to Redistricting.” Brennan Center for Justice, 2008-07-01. _______”All About Redistricting.” Prof. Justin Levitt’s guide to drawing the electoral lines. Track litigation and legislation action involving redistricting. Loyola Law School. 

Maddow, Rachel. “Election process toolkit.” MSNBC, The Rachel Maddow Show/Elections. Updated 2013-08-07.


McCarty, Nolan, Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal.  “Gerrymandering Didn’t Cause the Shutdown.” Bloomberg,  2013-10-09.


McElvaine, Robert S.  “America’s 40 Years War at an End.” The Huffington Post, 2008-06-05. 

Miller, Mark Crispin.  Loser Take All: Election Fraud and The Subversion of Democracy. IG Publishing, (April 2008). A professor of media studies at New York University and author,Miller is a longtime tireless activist on democratic media reform and votingrights issues. Google his name for related articles and several video commentaries; check out

Millhiser, Ian.  “Grand Theft Election: How Republicans Plan to Steal the White House.” If a Republican plan to rig the Electoral College had been in effect in 2012, it is reasonably likely that Mitt Romney would be President. Alternet, 2013-01-23.

NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF).  “Redrawing the Lines.” pdf.

NBC. Kevin Tibbles.  “Gerrymandering: the recipe for dysfunctional government?” 2013-10-14.

Nivola, Pietro S. and David W. Brady (Eds).  Red and Blue Nation?: Characteristics and Causes of America’s Polarized Politics. See chapter: Thomas E. Mann: “Polarizing the House of Representatives: How Much Does Gerrymandering Matter?” Brookings, 2006. Also:

Palmer, Griff and Michael Cooper.  “How Maps Helped Republicans Keep an Edge in the House.” New York Times,  2012-12-14.

Parry, Robert.  “Return of ‘Three-Fifths’ of a Person.”  ConsortiumNews, 2013-01-26. 

People for American Way.  “The Republican Electoral Rigging Plan Is Back.” It’s all been quiet on the election-rigging front for a while,so quiet that you might have thought the Republicans’ plan to rig the electoral college had been quietly dropped. Sadly, that’s not the case. 2013-10-01. 

Peters, Jeremy W.  “Redistricting Likely to Hamper Democratic Efforts in 2014, Study Finds.” New York Times, The Caucus, 2013-04-26.

Pierce, Olga, Justin Elliott and Theodoric Meyer.   “How Dark Money Helped Republicans Hold the House and Hurt Voters.” Redistricting: How Powerful Interests Are Drawing You Out of a Vote. [See chart comparing 2010 and 2012.] ProPublica, 2012-12-21.

Pierce, Olga, Jeff Larson and Lois Beckett.  “The Hidden Hands in Redistricting: Corporations and Other Powerful Interests.” Redistricting. How Powerful Interests Are Drawing You Out of a Vote. ProPublica, 2011-09-23.

Peters, Jeremy W.  “Redistricting Likely to Hamper Democratic Efforts in 2014, Study Finds.” New York Times, The Caucus, 2013-04-26.

Republican State Leadership Committee.  “Red Map.”

Rich, Frank.  “Lipstick on an Elephant.” Deep behind a tangle of denial and rebranding initiatives, a GOP resuscitation plan emerges.New York Magazine, 2013-03-03. 

Rosenberg, Matt.  “Gerrymandering.” How States Create Congressional Districts Based on Census Data.

Rove, Karl.  “The GOP Targets State Legislatures.” He who controls redistricting can control Congress.”  Wall Street Journal, 2010-03-04.

Shapiro, Walter.  “Why Gerrymandering Doesn’t Explain Congressional Extremism,and masks the Real Problems.” Brennan Center for Justice, 2013-10-30.

Sonenshein, Raphael J.  When the People Draw the Lines.  An examination of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. League of Women Voters/California,  James Irvine Foundation. June 2013

StateScape. “Legislative Control 2013. 

Stewart, Jon.  “American Horrible Story: Congress–Gerrymandering.” Jason Jones meets the Picasso of congressional redistricting, Kimball Brace, and Melanie Sloan, arecognized expert on congressional ethics. TheDaily Show, 2013-12-13.—gerrymandering

Sullivan, Sean.  “The Republican Party’s big state-level advantage, in one chart.” WashingtonPost,  2013-02-04.

TED-ed “Gerrymandering: How drawing jagged lines can impact an election.” Christine Greer.

Toobin, Jeffrey.  “The Great Election Grab.” When does gerrymandering become a threat to democracy? New Yorker, 2003-12-06. [Includes useful history.]

Wang, Sam.  “The Great Gerrymander of 2012.” New York Times, 2013-02-02. 

Weigel, David.  “Gerrymandering Denialists: Still Wrong, for New Reasons.”  Includes: North Carolina: A Case study in Strategic Reapportionment.

Wikipedia.  “Gerrymandering.”

Wing, Nick.  “GOP REDMAP Memo Admits Gerrymandering To Thank For Congressional Election Success.” HuffingtonPost, 2013-01-17.

US Foreign Policy — If Obama Had Lost

Some progressives see little difference between the foreign policies of a President Obama and a President McCain or Romney or Hillary Clinton. But those shades of gray can mean invading Syria or bombing Iran or continuing the occupation of Iraq or not, as Adil E. Shamoo notes.

By Adil E. Shamoo

President Barack Obama’s foreign policy over the past six years has come under attack from progressives and conservatives alike. From the progressive point of view, there is much to criticize: the killing of civilians by drones, excessive surveillance here and abroad in the name of national security, supporting corrupt regimes when it suits. For this and more, I have opposed Mr. Obama’s foreign policy.

But, in the early days of the new year, it might be good to take a moment to recognize that however disappointing President Obama’s policies may be, it could have been a lot worse if any of his key opponents, Republican or Democrat, were sitting in the White House today.

If a Republican were president, say Sen. John McCain, who lost to Obama in 2008, or Mitt Romney, who failed to unseat him in 2012, he would have found a way to keep as many as 30,000 American combat troops in Iraq, making Iraq a violent client state rather than the distant disaster it is today. Troops would continue coming home in coffins, and Iraq would feel the wrath of continued air strikes and raids.

If Hillary Clinton had won the primary in 2008 and became president, she would have rallied to keep combat troops in Iraq, too, perhaps only half as many as President McCain. But backlash from continued occupation, no matter the numbers, would be persistent and severe.

If a Republican or Ms. Clinton were president, American troops would still be in Afghanistan, but a higher number of them than the current 50,000 troops there, with slightly reduced numbers for decades to come. Significant numbers of American troops would have continued to suffer casualties monthly.

Meanwhile, the Syrian crisis may or may not have been averted under a different president. But if a Republican were in the White House, American troops would likely be in Syria right now and President Bashar Assad and his goons toppled from power. This would have pleased many Americans, including some liberals who see Syria as a humanitarian disaster in which intervention cannot be avoided.

Yet like Iraq and Afghanistan, there would be heavy American casualties, with the Syrian death toll in the tens of thousands. The fighting would have spilled into Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, far more than even today. Possibly the war would have also engulfed Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. Iran might become a target of a sustained bombing and possibly a military invasion, pleasing the war hawks in Congress, Israel and American friends in the Gulf, all whom have long pushed for intervention there.

On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton were president, she would have, at a minimum, established a no-fly zone over Syrian air-space and likely dragged the U.S. into a land war in the region, with similar outcomes just described under a Republican administration.

If a Republican were in power during the Egyptian revolution in 2011, he might have supported the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, but he would’ve done everything he could to prevent the election of any new president hailing from the Muslim Brotherhood. And if Mohamed Morsi had won anyway, the American president would have instituted policies to undermine him.

In retrospect, this policy would have pleased many Americans, and certainly the Egyptian military, too. In fact, the outcome would not be dissimilar to what is happening in Egypt today. But with flagrant Republican meddling, the U.S. would be blamed more directly for the political crisis there, fomenting more terrorism and an increase in anti-Americanism overall.

In short, the Middle East and Afghanistan would be hotbeds of wars and hostilities if the outcome of the 2008 or 2012 elections had been any different. In that context, progressives should take a deep breath and appreciate President Obama for avoiding the conflicts his opponents would have blundered straight into, or in the case of Iraq, continued to fight.

It is important to remember this discussion when Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016.

Adil E. Shamoo is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, a senior analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, and the author of: Equal Worth, When Humanity Will Have Peace. His email is [This article originally appeared in the Baltimore Sun and is reprinted with the author’s permission.]

Republicans, Unhinged

The current crisis of American democracy centers on the craziness that has engulfed the Republican Party, once considered home of the responsible “adults” but now more like an island controlled by nasty and destructive adolescents, as Beverly Bandler explains.

By Beverly Bandler

“No America without democracy, no democracy without politics, no politics without parties, no parties without compromise and moderation.” With these memorable words political scientist Clinton Rossiter began his classic text, Parties and Politics in America in 1960.

Journalist John B. Judis reminds us that Rossiter saw U.S. parties as “creatures of compromise, coalitions of interest in which principle is muted and often even silenced.” For Rossiter and several generations of political scientists, writes Judis: “this was the genius of America’s party system. It was what made it possible for the United States, in contrast to Europe or Latin America, where parties tended to be ideologically pure, to endure the wrenching change of war or depression without violence and revolution.”

Today’s Republican Party, which suffers from terminal Cold War nostalgia among other destructive maladies, is being run by the Tea Party movement, which has created, according to historian of ideas Mark Lilla, a new political type: anti-political Jacobins. The Tea Partiers and their right-wing sympathizers are reactionaries who have embraced a Soviet-style “never compromise” ideology that threatens to turn American democracy on its head.

Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein state it succinctly: “The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics, it is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Modern Republicans in contrast to their forebears in the Nineteenth Century and some moderates who continued to uphold GOP progressivism in the Twentieth Century have long rejected the notion that government can do anything to solve the nation’s problems. They have embraced Ronald Reagan’s maxim: “Government is the problem.”

For several decades, these reactionary Republicans have fought the New Deal and its “capitalism with safety nets.” They have now advanced farther along the continuum toward anarchy or what might be called anti-government nihilism. They have introduced, writes journalist Elizabeth Drew, a new concept of governing: they are against it.

The Good Republican Party

It was not always thus. The Republican Party began as an anti-slavery coalition that emerged in 1854 to combat the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which threatened to extend slavery further into the territories. The new party also promoted a more vigorous government role in modernizing the economy through such projects as the Trans-Continental Railroad. The party was led by Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president (1861-1865), who guided the Union to victory in the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery.

Known for its pro-business nationalism and its generally progressive views on race, the Republican Party would dominate the American political scene until 1932, losing its majorities during the Great Depression (1929-1940) to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal Coalition.”

As FDR led the country out of the Depression and through World War II, the Democrats became the dominant political party from 1932 to 1964, not only building the United States into an economic and military superpower but addressing many of the nation’s long-term ills, such as racial segregation, poverty, neglect for the elderly, and oppression of women. In these endeavors, progressive Democrats and progressive Republicans often worked together.

As NPR’s homespun humorist Garrison Keillor reflected in 2004, “Once upon a time, reasonable people could vote for Republicans, like Eisenhower. Not now: The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants”

American political scientist Andrew Hacker traces the origins of the extremist Republican Party that we know today to 1946. In that year, he notes the GOP decided to sell itself “as the voice of ordinary Americans” to voters who were resentful of postwar rising prices and shortages. With the 1946 midterm elections, in the middle of Democrat Harry Truman’s first term as president, “swept in were figures like Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy,” each one notorious in his own way.

Nixon’s shabby “smear campaign” treatment of Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas firmly established him as a ruthless political “slime ball” of the first order. McCarthy gave us “McCarthyism” (using a Red Scare to destroy the careers of many left-wing dissidents and progressives from 1950 to 1956), one of the most shameful periods in American history. McCarthy, Hacker notes, “created the epithet ‘un-American,’ an accusation almost impossible to refute. Since then, the party has exhibited a coarse strain, which its corporate wing tolerates as a price of prevailing.”

The Crazification

The real disintegration (what blogger John Rogers calls the “crazification factor”) of what used to be called the “Grand Old Party” began with the 1964 and 1965 civil rights legislation. From that period, the GOP once known for urging “caution and prudence” in blending reform with traditional values evolved steadily into a party with a free-floating relationship with reality. The process was accelerated by the rise of Ronald Reagan, an actor and corporate pitchman who himself had only a passing relationship with facts.

Now, the Republican Party is under the thumb of uninformed and irrational Tea Party extortionists, a coalition including extremist Ayn Rand capitalists, Christian fundamentalists who reject America’s tradition of religious tolerance, and neo-Confederates who want to return to the discredited constitutional theories promulgated by slave owners in the pre-Civil War South. These disparate groups have come together to reject the New Deal principles of a social compact in which the federal government plays an important role in promoting the “general Welfare,” as spelled out in the U.S. Constitution.

Indeed, the Republican Party is now controlled by right-wing extremists who attack the expressed wording of the U.S. Constitution (while pretending to love the Constitution), and beyond that they are contemptuous of any rational governance at any level.

The GOP has evolved into a political party unlike any the United States has experienced, at least not since the Southern Democrats in 1860 seceded from the Union to protect the institution of slavery. Like those Confederates, the Tea Partiers are attacking core principles of democracy and, in effect, the Republic itself.

Hostility to Democracy

Over the past several decades, these right-wing Republicans have been moving “to replace our representative democracy with a politically and economically authoritarian system,” according to American cultural critic Henry A. Giroux. The Republicans, he writes, “swath their unabashed greed and self importance with distorted ‘freedom’ and ‘free market’ rhetoric, unbridled and unaccountable.”

In this process, nearly all the traditional GOP moderates have been purged, reflecting a form of ideological purity and moral certainty that is more commonly associated with authoritarian systems, not major parties in a pluralistic democracy. Respected moderates and progressives in the past like Robert M. La Follette Sr. (Wisconsin), Jeannette Rankin (Montana), Margaret Chase Smith (Maine) and Charles McC. Mathias (Maryland) would not stand a chance in today’s radicalized Republican Party.

Republicans are no longer a loyal opposition to the majority Democrats (who won not only the presidency and the Senate in 2012 but prevailed by about 1½ million votes for the House of Representatives, with the GOP’s House “majority” sustained largely through anti-democratic gerrymandering).

Today’s Republican Party has become more of an anti-democratic insurrectionary cult that disdains the will of the majority and considers governance itself a form of evil. Through this transformation, the Republicans have helped replace the American Dream with a paralyzing Nightmare that may be very difficult to end, but ended it must be.

Beverly Bandler’s public affairs career spans some 40 years. Her credentials include serving as president of the state-level League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands and extensive public education efforts in the Washington, D.C. area for 16 years. She writes from Mexico.

Source Material

[1] Ackerman, Bruce.   The Decline and Fall of the American Republic. [See introduction for short history of political parties.]  (Tanner Lectures on Human Values). Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (October 1, 2010).

[2] Drew, Elizabeth.  “Are the Republicans Beyond Saving?” New York Review of Books,  2013-03-21.

[3] Giroux, Henry R.  “Corporate Media and Larry Summers Team Up to Gut Public Education: Beyond Education for Illiteracy, Vulgarity and a Culture of Cruelty.”, 2011-09-27.

[4] Hacker, Andrew.  “The Next Election: The Surprising Reality.” The New York Review of Books, 2011-08-18.

[5] Hacker, Jacob and Paul Pierson.  Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy.  Yale University Press (September 26, 2006).

[6] Judis, John B.  “Return of the Republicans.” Why they’re unlike any political party America has ever seen. The New Republic,  2011-01-13.

[7] Kabaservice, Geoffrey.  Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (Studies in Postwar American Political Development) Oxford University Press, USA (January 4, 2012).

[8] Lilla, Mark.  “The Tea Party Jacobins.” The New York Review ofBooks, 2010-05-27.

[9] Mann, Thomas E. and Norman J. Ornstein.  “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.” Washington Post, 2012-04-27.

[10] Pitt, William Rivers.    “Half the Republicans You Know Are Insane.” Alternet, 2013-10-03.

[11] Rossiter, Clinton Lawrence.  Parties and Politics in America. 1st ed.Cornell Univ Pr (June 1960); Cornell University Press (May 31, 1964).

[12] Wittes, Benjamin.  “Threatening Not to Raise the Debt Ceiling Is a National Security Issue, Too.”  New Republic, 2013-10-16.

A Threat to Nuke Tehran

Exclusive: Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson urged the United States to coerce Iran by dropping a demonstration nuke in the desert followed by a blackmail threat that the next one would obliterate Tehran. But this idea of genocide-extortion has drawn no official U.S. condemnation, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

When the largest donor to Republican political organizations urges the U.S. military to detonate a nuclear bomb in an Iranian desert with the explicit warning that “the next one is in the middle of Tehran,” you might expect that major American political figures and large U.S. media outlets would strongly denounce such genocidal blackmail.

After all, Tehran has a population of more than eight million people with millions more living in the suburbs. So, this threat to exterminate Tehran’s inhabitants from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson would be comparable to someone nuking an empty space in the United States as a warning that if Americans didn’t capitulate to some demand, a nuclear bomb would be dropped on New York City, the site of Adelson’s ugly threat.

The fact that the scattered outrage over Adelson’s remarks on Oct. 22 was mostly limited to the Internet and included no denunciations from prominent U.S. politicians, including leading Republicans who have benefited from Adelson’s largesse, suggests that many Muslims and especially Iranians are right to suspect that they are the object of obscene prejudice in some American power circles.

Indeed, HuffingtonPost published a vociferous defense of Adelson’s comments by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who organized the event at Yeshiva University where Adelson spoke. Boteach, who has been hailed as the “most famous Rabbi in America,” treated Adelson’s nuke threat as innocent hyperbole only underscoring how aggressively the world should treat Iran.

Instead of apologizing for letting Adelson go unchallenged as he mused about murdering millions of Iranians, Boteach expressed outrage over the few expressions of outrage about Adelson’s plan.

I found the reaction to his statement illuminating as to the double standards that are often employed on matters relating to Israel,” wrote Boteach, who then reprised the infamous false translation of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supposedly saying “that Israel must be wiped off the map.”

Boteach then added to the false quote the assumption that if Israel ceased to exist as a Jewish state, that would require “the murder of the six million Jews who live there [as] the precondition of such erasure.” However, there is the other possibility that Israel/Palestine could become like the United States, a country that has no official religion but that respects all religions.

To lay out only the two extremes that Israel must be officially a Jewish state (with non-Jews made second-class citizens or stateless people) as one option and the other that all the Jews must be murdered invites either apartheid or genocide.

Boteach also misrepresented recent comments by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei about destroying Tel Aviv and Haifa. The rabbi left out the context of Khamenei’s remark: the threat was predicated on Israel having first militarily attacked Iran. In other words, Khamenei was saying that if Israel destroyed Iranian cities, Iran had the right to retaliate against Israeli cities.

Israel’s Rogue Nuke Arsenal

But one thing that Iran has never threatened to do is to drop a nuclear bomb on Israel. First, Iran doesn’t have a nuclear bomb; has foresworn any interest in building one; has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty allowing in inspectors; and has offered to accept even more intrusive inspections in exchange for removal of economic sanctions.

By contrast, Israel possesses one of the world’s most sophisticated nuclear arsenals, albeit one that is undeclared and existing outside international inspections since Israel has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I’ve also been told that Israel’s military contingency plan for possibly attacking Iran’s hardened nuclear sites includes use of low-yield nuclear weapons.

So, loose talk from a prominent American Zionist about the value of the United States launching a ballistic nuclear strike from Nebraska targeting an Iranian desert with the explicit follow-up threat that the next nuke would obliterate Iran’s capital could be read by the Iranians as a real possibility, especially considering Adelson’s close ties to prominent Republicans.

The fact that such a discussion was held in New York City with no meaningful repercussions for Adelson could be read further as a message to Iran that it might well need a nuclear deterrence to protect itself from such terroristic blackmail.

Boteach’s HuffingtonPost commentary also focused only on the part of Adelson’s remark about dropping a nuclear bomb in an unpopulated area of Iran, where only “a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever” would be killed.

Treating the idea like some kind of humanitarian gesture, not a genocidal extortion threat, Boteach wrote, “Sheldon’s glib comments about nuking rattle snakes seemed to rattle many of the bloggers who were at our event even more than Ahmadinejad’s threats.”

But what made Adelson’s remark even more stunning than his idea of a demonstration nuclear attack in the desert was the follow-up warning: “Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development.”

At that point, the audience at Yeshiva University interrupted Adelson with applause.

The obvious problem with this kind of blackmail threat, of course, is that it requires the extortionist to follow through if the other side doesn’t capitulate. To be credible, you have to back up the warning “you want to be wiped out?” by actually wiping the other side out.

Republican Influence

If Adelson were simply an eccentric old billionaire spouting threats of genocide at some university forum in New York City, that would be bad enough. But Adelson is an important behind-the-scenes figure in the Republican Party.

Nearly singlehandedly, Adelson kept afloat the 2012 presidential campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and then threw his vast financial resources behind the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who accompanied Adelson on a high-profile trip to Israel that was designed to highlight tensions between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Romney’s warm reception in Israel was seen as effectively an endorsement of his candidacy by Netanyahu, who has rattled many of his own military sabers at Iran. While in Israel, Romney delivered a belligerent speech suggesting that he, as U.S. president, would happily support an Israeli war against Iran.

Romney told an audience of Israelis and some wealthy pro-Israel Americans that he is prepared to employ “any and all measures” to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons “capability,” a vague concept that arguably already exists.

Romney’s speech in Jerusalem was accompanied by a comment from his top foreign policy adviser Dan Senor seeming to endorse an Israeli unilateral strike against Iran. “If Israel has to take action on its own,” Senor said, “the governor would respect that decision.”

Romney said, “today, the regime in Iran is five years closer to developing nuclear weapons capability. Preventing that outcome must be our highest national security priority. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option. We must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability.

“We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded.”

By elevating Iran’s achievement of a nuclear weapons “capability” to America’s “highest national security priority” and vowing to “employ any and all measures” to prevent that eventuality, Romney was essentially threatening war against Iran under the current circumstances. In that, he went beyond the vague language used by President Obama, who himself has sounded belligerent with his phrasing about “all options on the table” to stop Iran if it moves to build a nuclear weapon.

However, the nuance was significant, since U.S. intelligence agencies and even their Israeli counterparts have concluded that Iran has not decided to build a nuclear weapon even as it makes progress in a nuclear program that Iranian leaders say is for peaceful purposes only. Still, those lessons from a peaceful nuclear program arguably can give a country a nuclear weapons “capability.” [See’s “US/Israel: Iran NOT Building Nukes.”]

Though Romney lost the 2012 election, his point of view is common among pro-Israel hawks in Congress and throughout Official Washington’s think-tank and media communities. Adelson also wields real influence because he, along with his wife Miriam, has poured a fortune into the U.S. political process, calculated at $92.8 million to outside political groups during the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And, it is his kind of crazy talk, not uncommon among extreme Zionists, that makes any political settlement of the Middle East disputes next to impossible.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

The White Man’s Last Tantrum?

Exclusive: With the U.S. government shutdown and a threatened credit default, Tea Party Republicans are testing out a new system of national governance in which they get their way or else. But is this the beginning of a new Jim Crow era of imposed white supremacy or just the white man’s last tantrum, asks Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

American pundits are missing the bigger point about the Republican shutdown of the U.S. government and the GOP’s threatened default on America’s credit. The real question is not what policy concessions the Tea Partiers may extract, but rather can a determined right-wing white minority ensure continuation of white supremacy in the United States?

For years, political scientists have been talking about how the demographic changes in the United States are inexorably leading to a Democratic majority, with Hispanics and Asian-Americans joining African-Americans and liberal urban whites to erode the political domains of white conservatives and white racists.

But those predictions have always assumed a consistent commitment to the democratic principle of one person, one vote and a readiness of Republicans to operate within the traditional standards of democratic governance. But what should now be crystal clear is that those assumptions are faulty.

Instead of accepting the emergence of this more diverse and multi-cultural America, the Right through the Tea Party-controlled Republicans has decided to alter the constitutional framework of the United States to guarantee the perpetuation of white supremacy and the acceptance of right-wing policies.

In effect, we are seeing the implementation of a principle enunciated by conservative thinker William F. Buckley in 1957: “The white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.” Except now the Buckley rule is being applied nationally.

A Nationwide Strategy

This reality is hard to deny even though much of the U.S. political elite remains in denial. But the truth is apparent in a host of anti-democratic moves that have emanated from the lily-white Tea Party and that have been implemented by the predominantly white Republican Party at both the state and federal levels.

It’s there in the nationwide campaign to impose “ballot security” by requiring photo IDs for voting to cure the virtually non-existent problem of in-person voting fraud. The well-documented result of requiring photo IDs will be to reduce the number of urban minority voters who are less likely to have driver’s licenses and other approved identification.

It’s there in the reduction of voting hours, which — when combined with disproportionately fewer (and less efficient) voting booths in poor and minority areas — guarantees long lines and further skews the political power to wealthier white areas. In the pivotal election of 2000, we saw how this combination of factors in Florida suppressed the vote for Al Gore and handed the White House to the national vote loser George W. Bush.

It’s there in the sophisticated gerrymandering that Republican statehouses have applied to congressional districts around the country by lumping minorities and other Democratic voters together in one deformed district so other districts have comfortable Republican majorities.

This gerrymandering now aided by computer models to remove any guesswork played an important role in maintaining the current Republican “majority” in the House of Representatives even though congressional Republicans lost the national popular vote in 2012 by about 1½ million votes.

Congressional Tactics

The Right’s anti-democratic strategy is there, too, in the endless use of Republican filibusters in the U.S. Senate. Because of compromises made at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, some of this anti-democratic bias was built into the system (from a deal to assure the small states that they would not be overwhelmed by the large states under the Constitution, which concentrated power in the federal government).

Except for that long-ago compromise, there is no logical reason why the 240,000 registered voters in Wyoming should have the same number of senators as the 18 million registered voters in California. (Or why the 400,000 registered voters in the District of Columbia should have none.)

However, this violation of democracy’s one-person, one-vote principle is exacerbated in the U.S. Senate when Republicans filibuster even minor bills and demand that Democrats muster 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to proceed. That means that a handful of lightly populated states can block legislative action favored by large majorities of the American people, such as requiring background checks on gun-show purchasers.

Republicans also have found endless excuses to deny congressional voting rights to Washington DC residents. You can probably guess what color skin many DC citizens have and what political party they favor.

The New Jim Crow

If you step back and take a look at this ugly landscape, what you will see is something akin to a new Jim Crow system, a sickening reprise of what happened the last time white supremacists saw their political and cultural dominance threatened in the years after the Civil War.

In the late 1860s and 1870s, the two parties were on the opposite sides of the racial-equality issue. Then, the Republicans pressed for a reconstruction of the South to assure civil rights for blacks. However, the Democrats, the old party of slavery, acted to frustrate, sabotage and ultimately defeat those efforts.

What the United States then got was nearly a century of racial segregation across large swaths of the country although most egregious in the South. It was not until the 1960s when the Democratic Party of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson broke with the old traditions of collaborating with the Old Confederacy. These new Democrats instead supported civil rights legislation pushed by Martin Luther King Jr. and other advocates for racial equality.

However, opportunistic Republicans, such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, saw an opening to flip the electoral map by snaking away the South’s resentful white racists from the Democrats and locking them into the Republican Party. The maneuver cloaked in coded messages about states’ rights and hostility toward the federal government proved astoundingly successful.

Still, the white supremacists faced a politically existential problem. They were demographically fading from their historic dominance, steadily replaced in numbers by Hispanics, Asian-Americans and blacks as well as by younger whites who viewed racial bigotry as a disgusting residue from the age-old crimes of slavery and segregation.

Countering Demographics

So what to do? Right-wing billionaires helped by pouring in vast sums to create a powerful right-wing propaganda machine, an ideological media unparalleled in American history.  The loud voices and angry words from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News whipped up white grievances, but as the election and reelection of African-American Barack Obama showed more was needed.

The votes of non-whites and the young needed to be suppressed via manipulated election rules; the use of scientific gerrymandering had to be expanded to further devalue Democratic votes; obstructionism in Congress had to become the rule, not the exception.

Finally, it became clear that a de facto transformation of the constitutional system was needed to prevent the rule of this emerging and “undeserving” majority. Thus, government by extortion became the ultimate solution.  [See’s “America’s Government by Extortion.”]

By using the Republican House and its gerrymandered “majority” to prevent votes on straightforward bills to pay for the government and raise the debt ceiling, the Tea Party is now testing whether the majority of the nation can be coerced into accepting the demands of a right-wing minority through threats of economic calamity.

Even some Republicans seem confused about their short-term goals. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Indiana, declared, “we’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

But the message that the Tea Party Republicans are delivering to the nation is that if the American people insist on electing Democratic presidents or enacting federal legislation to “promote the general Welfare,” the Tea Party will respond by making the economy scream. The economic dislocations from a credit default alone could be so severe that millions of people will be thrown out of work and out of their homes.

The implicit warning is that you will suffer that fate — you may be driven into poverty — if you don’t let whites continue to rule. Or as the urbane William Buckley put it, you must let whites “prevail, politically and culturally.”

An Unthinkable Idea?

For those Americans who recoil at this scenario and think it must be unthinkable in the Twenty-First Century they should remember their history. In the 1870s, racist whites especially in the South but also in many parts of the North refused to accept post-Civil War amendments that guaranteed equal rights and voting rights for blacks.

Through connivance and violence, the racist whites prevailed and it took nearly a century and much more bloodshed to reverse their victories. What America is witnessing today is the next phase of that war for white supremacy. Well-meaning people should not be too cavalier about the outcome.

The Tea Party-induced government shutdown and the upcoming extortion demands over the debt ceiling may indeed turn out to be the white man’s last tantrum but this extremist strategy of mayhem and extortion could also be the inauguration of a grim new era of Jim Crow.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Why Right’s Lemmings Don Suicide Vest

Exclusive: The government-sabotaging fervor of the Republican Right likened by one GOP congressman to “lemmings with suicide vests” can only be understood from inside the right-wing bubble where a distorted view of the Constitution prevails and actual democracy is disdained, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

There is an old saying from the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” But the modern American Right seems to believe that “Hey, this is the USA, why shouldn’t we have our own facts!”

That sentiment is at the center of the current U.S. crisis involving the shutdown of the federal government and the threats to default on America’s credit. A determined minority within the House of Representatives has decided that its view of the Founding Principles and its assessment on the role of government are the only ones that count, whether factually anchored or not.

And it doesn’t even matter that this right-wing group has no mandate from the American people. Not only did the Democrats win the White House and the Senate in 2012, but the Democrats garnered about 1½ million more votes for House seats than the Republicans did.

The Republican House “majority” is derived to a significant degree from aggressive gerrymandering of congressional districts, like the one for northern Ohio where the GOP-controlled statehouse combined a Democratic district in Cleveland (represented by Dennis Kucinich) with one in Toledo (represented by Marcy Kaptur). The two cities are 116 miles apart and the connection along Lake Erie is so narrow in spots that you have to leave the district to drive from one half to the other.

But today’s Republican Party cares little about genuine democracy. Especially the GOP’s right wing is about shaping a false historical narrative which misrepresents the intent of the Constitution’s Framers and then insists that the Right’s fake Founding Principles must be applied regardless of how the majority of Americans voted. [See’s “The Right’s Made-Up ‘Constitution.’”]

Thus, holding the federal government and indeed the nation’s economy hostage to impose the Tea Party’s will on the people makes a sort of perverted sense. If you’ve convinced yourself that the normal democratic process is threatening the esteemed wisdom of the Founders, then as Sen. Barry Goldwater once proclaimed “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

For many Tea Partiers, their hostility toward democracy is even stronger when you factor in that President Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats won their majorities by piling up votes from African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans. In the view of many on the Right, these non-whites are not “Real Americans” and thus their ballots should not count or at least not count as much as the votes of whites.

That racist attitude explains the recent surge of voter ID laws and the reduction of voting hours that are being enacted by Republican statehouses around the United States. They are doing so with the aid and encouragement of the five right-wing U.S. Supreme Court justices who gutted a clearly constitutional provision in the Voting Rights Act which required states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get prior federal approval for changing voting rules.

The Fifteenth Amendment states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” And the amendment gives Congress the “power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Yet, the five right-wing justices deemed that their ideological belief in “states’ rights” trumped the explicit wording of the Constitution.

White Power Structure

Many on the Right with their selective interpretation of the Constitution despise these post-Civil War amendments, in particular, because they were forced on the white power structure of the South after the Confederate insurrection fought to save but failed to preserve slavery, the right of whites to own blacks.

So, these amendments, especially the Fourteenth and Fifteenth which protect the rights of blacks and other racial minorities, are seen as illegitimate, tolerable only if they don’t intrude on ultimate white rule. Or as famed conservative William F. Buckley declared in 1957, “the white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.”

Buckley’s edict is still the operational theory of the American Right: it’s okay to let black and brown people express their silly little opinions once in a while but they must never be in charge. So today’s Republican Party feels justified in taking action to make sure that whites can continue to “prevail, politically and culturally.”

There were political optimists who thought that the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president would lift the United States into a post-racial era, but it instead has prompted an angry last stand for white supremacy.

That history of defending white supremacy can be traced back to the battle over the Constitution when some of its prominent opponents, known as Anti-Federalists, saw the document’s concentration of power in the federal government as an eventual death knell to slavery (despite the Constitution’s implicit acceptance of slavery).

To the slave-owning Anti-Federalists, the Constitution’s powerful central government combined with the North’s emerging industrial strength presaged an eventual elimination of slavery. To them, it didn’t help that some key supporters of the Constitution, like Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, were abolitionists.

As Virginian Anti-Federalist leader Patrick Henry warned his fellow slave-owners in urging them not to ratify the Constitution, “they’ll free your niggers!”

The struggle to constrain the Constitution’s potential threat to slavery didn’t end with the Constitution’s ratification in 1788. The slave-owning opponents rallied behind fellow slaveholder Thomas Jefferson to impose a revisionist view of the Constitution, one that elevated states’ rights again and pushed back against federal authority.

Following the same line, today’s American Right consistently adopts not the literal reading of the Constitution or the views of the Federalists, its principal authors, but rather the revisionist interpretation imposed by Jefferson and what might be called “the pre-Confederates.” [See’s “The Four Eras of the American Right.”]

Southern Strategy

The Civil War and Reconstruction ended slavery but enabled the Democratic Party to exploit white resentment against the anti-slavery Republican Party and consolidate a white base within the Old Confederacy. With Jim Crow laws to repress black citizens, the Democratic Party, which had emerged from Jefferson’s southern-based political faction, went from being the party of slavery to the party of segregation.

That changed in the 1960s when the national Democrats took the lead in ending racial segregation. Though the Republican Party had historically been the anti-slavery and anti-segregation party, President Richard Nixon saw an opening for stealing away the Democratic Party’s southern white support. Nixon’s Southern Strategy appealed to white Southerners with racial code words in the 1970s and Ronald Reagan consolidated the Republican lock on southern whites in the 1980s with his populist appeals against “welfare queens” and other racial stereotypes.

Along with the Republican embrace of neo-Confederate ideology, right-wing think tanks and the rapidly expanding right-wing media popularized bogus versions of the Founding narrative, turning the Framers of the Constitution, who actually implemented a dramatic consolidation of power in the central government, into their opposites, big promoters of states’ rights who wanted a tightly constrained federal government.

Given the historical illiteracy of many Americans and the disdain that many on the Left feel toward the Constitution for its protection of property rights there was little protest over this stolen American narrative. Few in mainstream media or academia dared remind the public of the actual history in which the key Framers of the Constitution were pragmatic nationalists who placed very few limits on what the federal government could do.

Despite their many aristocratic tendencies, the Framers arguably had more faith in democracy than the current batch of Tea Party extremists. The Framers created a constitutional system that trusted the judgment of the people’s representatives to do essentially whatever was necessary to “provide for the common Defense and the general Welfare of the United States,” as they wrote in Article I, Section 8.

Further, Section 8’s so-called “enumerated powers” authorized Congress “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

It was initially the pro-slavery forces of the South who imposed a revisionist view of these powers, insisting they should be much more limited than they were written by the Framers of the Constitution. This “limited government” banner was later picked up by the Robber Baron industrialists of the late Nineteenth Century as they resisted reform movements that sought to constrain their power over the economy.

Anti-Democratic Movement

The struggle to impose this revisionist interpretation of the Constitution has always been anti-democratic in its desire to prevent the collective will of the broad American populace to implement changes to “promote the general Welfare.”

The insistence that the Constitution forbids what it actually endorses has been a touchstone of the American Right for more than two centuries, especially relating to expanded rights of non-whites and the effective regulation of powerful corporations. By demanding a “Confederate” interpretation of the Constitution, the Right asserts that reformist government action responsive to the popular will must be prohibited.

While the Right’s view is anti-historical, it can be persuasive if you put yourself into the right-wing media bubble where this made-up national narrative is all you hear. You see yourself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with George Washington and James Madison in denouncing health-care reform as an existential threat to American liberty.

But someone outside that bubble, who actually has read the Constitution and knows the history, would see the Affordable Care Act as simply an imperfect attempt to provide for “the general Welfare” by ensuring that millions of citizens who have been locked out of regular health care by a greedy health-insurance industry can finally go see a doctor without inviting bankruptcy.

Clearly, there were more efficient ways of accomplishing that goal i.e. a single-payer system or at least a Medicare buy-in but those other options were precluded by Republicans and some pro-corporate Democrats, thus leading to a free-market-oriented structure that had originally been devised by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and promoted in Massachusetts by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.

Only when this plan was embraced by President Obama did the concept become an unconscionable assault on the constitutional rights of Americans. But the fury around the issue can only be explained by the Right’s bogus interpretation of the Constitution, which excites the base to don tri-corner caps and wave yellow flags with a coiled snake declaring, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

The extremism of this Republican Tea Party faction is so intense that it has bewildered even other conservative Republicans. For instance, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, likened the behavior to “lemmings with suicide vests,” adding:

“It’s kind of an insult to lemmings to call them lemmings, so they’d have to be more than just a lemming, because jumping to your death is not enough.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Blaming Obama for Syrian Mess

Exclusive: As the Syrian civil war drags on, al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists are emerging as the fiercest fighters in the rebel coalition and complicating how the conflict can be resolved. So, U.S. neocons are trying to pin the blame on President Obama, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The neocons, who provided the propaganda framework for the disastrous Iraq War, are creating a new and dangerous conventional wisdom on Syria, blaming the emerging hardline jihadist dominance of the anti-government opposition on President Barack Obama’s failure to intervene militarily much earlier.

Official Washington is now awash in the message that Obama’s grudging agreement to deliver some light weapons to non-Islamist rebels is a case of “too little, too late.” A corollary of this neocon analysis is that only a much more aggressive U.S. military policy, including air strikes against Syrian government targets, can now salvage the situation by forcing President Bashar al-Assad into negotiations preconditioned on his surrender.

In other words, the neocons, who survived the Iraq War debacle with amazingly little harm to their standing within the Establishment, are offering their usual response to every political crisis in the Muslim world: U.S. military intervention and forced “regime change” of a leader deemed hostile to Israel.

However, the neocons are again living in their own reality. The truth is that it has been the Syrian opposition that has been the chief obstacle to peace negotiations, not Assad’s government. Earlier this year, talks scheduled for Geneva were blocked not by Assad, who agreed to participate, but by the opposition, which insisted on a fresh supply of weapons and a delay until rebel forces had reversed their recent string of military defeats.

Even earlier, however, when the rebels seemed to have the upper hand in the conflict, they showed little interest in a negotiated, power-sharing agreement. Then, the rebels were set on an outright defeat of Assad’s government and rebuffed Assad’s overtures of constitutional and political reforms.

That is not to say that Assad’s military did not respond to the civil unrest in 2011 with excessive force or that the Assad dynasty has not been among the most unsavory Arab dictatorships over the decades. The Assads, like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, have represented some of the worst examples of repression in a region that has been long known for repression.

However, as with Iraq’s Hussein, the U.S. news media has painted the Syrian situation in blacks and whites. The opposition is noble and the government is evil. Every extreme claim about Assad, as with Hussein, is accepted as fact with almost no skepticism allowed. That pattern of journalistic malpractice contributed to the unprovoked U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 when little credence was given to Iraq’s denials that it possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Hussein also received little credit for maintaining a secular government that cracked down on Islamic extremism. Instead, President George W. Bush’s administration sold to the U.S. news media the myth that Hussein was ready to share WMDs with al-Qaeda. It was only after Bush’s invasion and the failure to find the WMDs that Iraq did become a home for al-Qaeda extremists and the U.S. press corps came to understand how the neocons had sold a false bill of goods.

But that awareness has slipped away as neocon commentators still dominate the op-ed pages and the think tanks, enabling them now to define the parameters of the debate over Syria.

The Neocon Strategy

It has long been central to the neocons’ geopolitical strategy to seek “regime change” in Muslim countries that are considered hostile to Israel and by doing so to undermine Israel’s close-in enemies, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas. The neocon thinking was that if pro-U.S. governments could be installed in Iraq, Syria and Iran, then Israel would have a freer hand to dictate a final “peace” to the isolated Palestinians, who would have little choice but to accept the final borders demanded by Israel. [See’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]

However, the neocons have operated with a cartoonish view of the Muslim world. They have shown no sophistication about how the geopolitics of their schemes might actually play out.

For instance, their dreams about the Iraqis welcoming U.S. invaders as “liberators” didn’t exactly go that way. Ultimately, a Sunni autocrat (Hussein) was replaced by a Shiite autocrat (Nouri al-Maliki) with Iran gaining more influence than the United States, the erstwhile occupying power. Similarly, the overthrow-murder of Libya’s secular dictator Muammar Gaddafi a bloody demise cheered by the neocons has created new space for Islamic militants to expand their influence in northern Africa.

The neocons’ only real argument for “success” is that their mischief-making over the last decade has inflicted so much violence and destruction in the Muslim world that the region’s wealth and unity has been sapped, thus limiting how much support can be provided to the embattled Palestinians.

Likewise, the shattered nation of Syria is now preoccupied with its own devastating civil war, leaving little time and money to bolster the Palestinians. But the neocon strategy to press for a military victory over Assad also carries grave risks. The Sunni-led rebellion against Assad, an Alawite representing a branch of Shiite Islam, has been an invitation for al-Qaeda militants to cross the border from Iraq into Syria, a move that was inevitable whether Assad surrendered or resisted.

Perhaps the best hope for Syria would have been for the opposition to have entered into serious power-sharing negotiations in 2011, but then the scent of outright victory was too strong. The opposition’s hubris urged on by American neocons who smelled Assad’s blood overwhelmed any thoughts of reconciliation. The view was that the only viable solution required ousting Assad and eradicating any remnants of the Assad dynasty.

But that uncompromising position spread fear among many of Iraq’s Alawites, Shiites and Christians who foresaw possible revenge from Sunni extremists. The hardline rebel stance also forced the Assad regime to stiffen its spine and push back against the gains of the rebels. The prospect of another “Western-engineered” ouster of an Arab leader following the violent “regime change” in Iraq and Libya also raised alarms in Iran and Russia as well as inside Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shiite militias.

An Internationalized Conflict

Iran and Russia stepped up military supplies and Hezbollah dispatched reinforcements, enabling Assad’s forces to gain the upper hand. That, in turn, drew in even more al-Qaeda and other Sunni militants. Journalists from the region are now reporting that these extremists have emerged as the dominant military force among the rebels.

Anne Barnard and Eric Schmitt reported for the New York Times that “As foreign fighters pour into Syria at an increasing clip, extremist groups are carving out pockets of territory that are becoming havens for Islamist militants, posing what United States and Western intelligence officials say may be developing into one of the biggest terrorist threats in the world today.”

Similarly, Liz Sly reported for the Washington Post that “A rebranded version of Iraq’s al-Qaeda affiliate is surging onto the front lines of the war in neighboring Syria, expanding into territory seized by other rebel groups and carving out the kind of sanctuaries that the U.S. military spent more than a decade fighting to prevent in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

So, like a case of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the neocons have helped whip up another new flood of trouble in the Middle East. But the neocons are not about to accept blame for the mess that is now sloshing around Syria. Thus, an alternative narrative is necessary: that it’s all President Obama’s fault for not committing the U.S. military to another invasion of a Muslim nation.

That is indeed the new conventional wisdom spreading across Official Washington: If only Obama had dispatched the U.S. Air Force to shoot down Syrian planes and bomb government troop positions while also arming the anti-Assad rebels with modern weapons all would be well. The opposition would have prevailed and a pro-Western (and pro-Israeli) democracy would be governing Syria.

Instead, according to this conventional wisdom, Obama dithered, dragging his heels on committing U.S. warplanes and weapons, even now only approving some light weapons if they can be channeled to carefully vetted moderate elements of the opposition.

But the neocon narrative ignores how messy and how dangerous a violent overthrow of another Arab government would have been. There would have been no assurance that the Sunni-led rebels would not have taken bloody revenge on the Alawites, Shiites and Christian sects that have been the backbone of Assad’s regime.

There likely would have been Libyan-style chaos with Islamic militants still swarming into Syria to fill the political void. Indeed, the outcome might well have been the establishment of an Islamist regime representing the country’s Sunni majority, replacing the relatively secular Assad government backed by the various Muslim and Christian minorities.

If indeed such an expectation would have been more realistic than the neocons’ rosy scenario, Obama could be criticized more for his failure to press the Syrian rebels into accepting some power-sharing compromise with Assad’s forces in 2011 or 2012 when the opposition’s prospects were brighter.

However, Obama was involved in a bitter reelection battle with Republican Mitt Romney, who was assiduously courting the Israelis and portraying Obama as lacking sufficient ardor for the Jewish state. By the time Obama was sworn in for a second term in 2013, the battlefield had begun to swing toward Assad’s advantage.

When the Obama administration did begin a push for a negotiated settlement this year, Assad was quick to agree but the splintered rebel coalition balked, demanding instead an escalation of military support from the West so the war could be tilted again into the rebels’ favor.

That wishful thinking, however, has expanded the opening for al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremists, a development that was always predictable but one that the neocons don’t want blamed on them. Thus, the new conventional wisdom pinning the evolving Syrian disaster on Obama.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

The Marriage of Libertarians and Racists

Exclusive: The modern Republican Party and its chic libertarians have dallied with white supremacists as a political necessity, because blacks and other minorities have rallied to the Democrats due to their better civil rights record. But the Right’s dancing with the racist devil is not new. It’s as old as the Founding, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In the U.S. news media, there is often a distinction made between the racist Right, which emerged from the struggle to maintain slavery and segregation, and the “small-government” Right, which supposedly represents a respectable conservatism focused on the libertarian ideals of personal freedom and free-market principles.

But the reality is that both of these major branches of the American Right grew from the same political trunk, i.e., the South’s fear that a strong federal government would intrude on the practices of slavery and, later, segregation. And, throughout U.S. history, those two branches of the Right have been mutually supportive.

Thus, prominent leaders of the “libertarian” Right the likes of William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and Ron and Rand Paul have opposed major legislative efforts to combat Southern segregation, typically citing the “liberty” of a white restaurant owner to bar black patrons as trumping the right of the patrons to be treated fairly.

Similarly, on Tuesday, the right-wing majority of the U.S. Supreme Court embraced the freedom of states and communities with a history of racial discrimination in voting to change their voting rules without having to get clearance from federal authorities as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (and renewed in 2006) had required.

The right of these districts to set their own standards topped the power of Congress to require that the principle of one person, one vote be respected for black and brown people, according to the Court’s five right-wing justices. Thus, the libertarianism behind “small government” principles again supported the goal of white supremacy.

The reality of these two wings of the Right flapping together in coordination has existed since the Founding of the Republic when Southern opponents of the Constitution’s proposed concentration of national power in the federal government argued that the shift away from state sovereignty as contained in the Articles of Confederation would inevitably doom slavery.

In the Virginia ratification convention of 1788, opponents of the Constitution Patrick Henry and George Mason pressed the case that Virginia’s lucrative investment in slavery would be put at risk by a powerful central government that they claimed would eventually come under Northern dominance. [See’s “Source of Anti-Government Extremism.”]

Jefferson’s Racism

Though the Anti-Federalists lost the fight over the Constitution’s ratification, they continued to oppose President George Washington’s vision of a vibrant federal government building the young nation and protecting its fragile independence.

After Thomas Jefferson returned from France in 1789, the Anti-Federalists found their charismatic political leader. Along with his intellectual prowess, Jefferson was not above engaging in secretive personal attacks on Washington’s key lieutenants, particularly Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. Jefferson ultimately organized his faction into the Democratic-Republican Party.

Despite his elegant words about freedom and equality, Jefferson was at his core a racist hypocrite who believed in white supremacy and rejected ever incorporating emancipated blacks into American society. Like Henry and Mason, Jefferson recognized the threat that a strong central government posed to his beloved Virginia and its lucrative institution of slavery.

So, Jefferson fiercely opposed the Federalist program that sought to promote the country’s development through everything from a national bank to a professional military to a system of roads and canals.

The primary distinction between Washington and Jefferson was that although both were Virginian slaveholders Washington was arguably the First American while Jefferson was a Virginian first, rooted deeply in its soil and traditions.

Washington understood the new country as it was born through the Revolution’s motto of “Join, or Die.” He led the Continental Army in battles from Massachusetts to New York through New Jersey and Pennsylvania to Virginia. He knew the perspectives of the various regions and grasped the potential (and the problems) of the young nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, Washington also experienced the gross ineffectiveness of the Articles of Confederation, which governed the country from 1777 to 1787 and which made the 13 states “sovereign” and “independent.” He had seen his troops go hungry because states reneged on pledges of support.

After Washington’s army defeated the British in 1781, he watched in dismay as the squabbling among the states continued. Not only did Washington perceive how the Articles were holding back the nation’s economic development but how they were endangering its fragile independence, as European powers played one region against another.

When Shays’ Rebellion broke out in western Massachusetts in 1786, Washington was particularly concerned that the disorder might serve the interests of the British, who had only recently accepted the existence of the United States. Washington kept in touch with his Revolutionary War associates in Massachusetts, such as Gen. Henry Knox and Gen. Benjamin Lincoln.

On Oct. 22, 1786, in a letter seeking more information from a friend in Connecticut, Washington wrote: “I am mortified beyond expression that in the moment of our acknowledged independence we should by our conduct verify the predictions of our transatlantic foe, and render ourselves ridiculous and contemptible in the eyes of all Europe.”

Shays’ Rebellion was finally put down by a militia force led by General Lincoln, but it helped convince Washington to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia with the goal of throwing out the Articles of Confederation (along with the notions of state “sovereignty” and “independence”) and drafting a new governing structure that centralized power.

Madison’s Role

Two of Washington’s chief lieutenants in this endeavor were his Revolutionary War aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, who had studied various governing models and pushed for a system relying on checks and balances.

As a protégé of Washington, Madison favored even a stronger federal government than emerged from the compromising in Philadelphia. For instance, Madison wanted to give Congress the power to veto state laws, but had to settle for making federal law supreme and giving federal courts the power to strike down unconstitutional state statutes.

However, after Jefferson’s return from France where he had served as U.S. representative, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence began organizing political and public opposition to President Washington’s activist vision. Jefferson, as Secretary of State, became a particularly fierce rival of Treasury Secretary Hamilton.

Among other tactics, Jefferson secretly financed newspapers to attack his rivals, including Washington’s successor, President John Adams. The nastiness of Jefferson’s approach alienated Adams and prompted retaliation in kind from the Federalists. Washington’s great fear of factionalism was being realized. While the nasty political exchanges were extremely personal, they also reflected the agrarian interests of Jefferson’s Virginia (i.e. slavery) versus the commercial and industrial interests of New York and New England, represented by Hamilton and Adams.

Historically, Jefferson’s political operation has been dressed up in the fineries of ideology and his desire for “Republicanism.” But the core of his insistence on a weak central government and his emphasis on states’ rights was his recognition that the Federalists would otherwise become a threat to slavery. His defense of simple “farmers” was a euphemism for his advocacy on behalf of his real “base,” plantation owners.

The brilliant Jefferson also pulled his Virginia neighbor Madison out of Washington’s orbit and into his own. In modern times when the Right claims Madison as one of their heroes, it is this later incarnation of Madison who joined with Jefferson. It is not the Madison who drafted the Constitution and worked with Washington in centralizing power in the federal government.

The Virginia Dynasty

After building his political party, which became known as the Democratic-Republicans, Jefferson wrestled control of the presidency from John Adams and established the Virginia Dynasty, a 24-year string of Virginians as president from Jefferson in 1801 through Madison in 1809 and James Monroe in 1817. (Monroe, another fierce advocate for slavery, had sided with Henry and Mason in opposing the Constitution in 1788.)

Unlike George Washington who freed his slaves in his will, neither Jefferson nor Madison granted a blanket grant of freedom in their wills. Jefferson only freed a few slaves who were related to his alleged mistress, Sally Hemings, and Madison freed none.

As historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg wrote in Madison and Jefferson, these two important Founders must be understood as, first and foremost, politicians representing the interests of Virginia where the two men lived nearby each other on plantations worked by African-American slaves, Jefferson at Monticello and Madison at Montpelier.

“It is hard for most to think of Madison and Jefferson and admit that they were Virginians first, Americans second,” Burstein and Isenberg note. “But this fact seems beyond dispute. Virginians felt they had to act to protect the interests of the Old Dominion, or else, before long, they would become marginalized by a northern-dominated economy.

“Virginians who thought in terms of the profit to be reaped in land were often reluctant to invest in manufacturing enterprises. The real tragedy is that they chose to speculate in slaves rather than in textile factories and iron works. And so as Virginians tied their fortunes to the land, they failed to extricate themselves from a way of life that was limited in outlook and produced only resistance to economic development.”

Not only was Virginia’s agriculture tied to the institution of slavery but after the Constitution banned the importation of slaves in 1808, Virginia developed a new industry, the breeding of slaves for sale to new states forming in the west. [For details on this history, see’s “The Right’s Dubious Claim to Madison.”]

Weaving of Right-Wing Threads

So, Jefferson and the Virginia Dynasty combined the two core elements of what would become America’s right-wing ideology, racial bigotry and hostility to government, a pairing that grew even more constricting on the nation’s future in the decades before the Civil War when Southerners even opposed federal disaster relief out of fear that it could serve as a precedent for abolition.

When 11 Southern states formed the Confederacy after the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln, the merger of “states’ rights” and racism reached its zenith. Meanwhile, President Lincoln represented the opposite approach, favoring a strong and activist central government. Before his assassination in April 1865, Lincoln had not only defeated the Confederacy, reunified the nation and pushed through the Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery, but he began construction of the transcontinental railroad.

After Lincoln’s death, the Congress of the Reconstruction era passed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, guaranteeing equal rights for blacks and their right to vote. Lincoln had bequeathed the country a federal government demanding justice for blacks and eager to strengthen the nation through economic development.

However, in the years after Reconstruction ended in 1877, a new alliance emerged between racist Southern whites and “laissez-faire” Northern industrialists. The arrangement was that the white Southern aristocracy could reassert itself under Jim Crow laws and the white Northern “robber barons” could minimize federal regulation of their businesses and their stock speculation.

That political paradigm continued for the next half century despite the occasional emergence of reform-minded politicians like Theodore Roosevelt who pressed for a greater government role in restraining the worst abuses of capitalism. It took the Great Depression and the election of Franklin Roosevelt to change things.

Drawing on the traditions of Washington, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, FDR asserted a strong role for the federal government on behalf of the common citizen as well as in regulating the excesses of powerful businessmen. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt also began speaking up for oppressed African-Americans.

From FDR’s New Deal and the follow-on efforts of an activist federal government under Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, the Great American Middle Class was built. The Feds also intervened in support of the civil rights movement to break the back of Southern segregation.

However, the white backlash to this federal activism against segregation became the energy driving the modern Republican Party. The smartest right-wingers of the post-World War II era understood this reality.

Regarding the need to keep blacks under white domination, urbane conservative William F. Buckley declared in 1957 that “the white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.”

Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, who wrote the influential manifesto Conscience of a Conservative, realized in 1961 that for Republicans to gain national power, they would have to pick off Southern segregationists who were growing disenchanted with the modern Democratic Party and its embrace of civil rights. Or as Goldwater put it, the Republican Party had to “go hunting where the ducks are.”

Then, there was Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy of using coded language to appeal to Southern whites and Ronald Reagan’s launching of his 1980 national presidential campaign with a states’ rights speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the notorious site of the murders of three civil rights workers. The two strands of historic conservatism — white supremacy and “small government” ideology — were again wound together.

Whiting Out History

In a recent New York Magazine article, Frank Rich summed up this political history while noting how today’s right-wing revisionists have tried to reposition their heroes by saying they opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 simply out of high-minded “small-government principles.” But Rich wrote:

“The primacy of [Strom] Thurmond in the GOP’s racial realignment is the most incriminating truth the right keeps trying to cover up. That’s why the George W. Bush White House shoved the Mississippi senator Trent Lott out of his post as Senate majority leader in 2002 once news spread that Lott had told Thurmond’s 100th-birthday gathering that America ‘wouldn’t have had all these problems’ if the old Dixiecrat had been elected president in 1948.

“Lott, it soon became clear, had also lavished praise on Jefferson Davis and associated for decades with other far-right groups in thrall to the old Confederate cause. But the GOP elites didn’t seem to mind until he committed the truly unpardonable sin of reminding America, if only for a moment, of the exact history his party most wanted and needed to suppress. Then he had to be shut down at once.”

This unholy alliance between the racists and the libertarians continues to this day with Republicans understanding that the votes of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities must be suppressed if the twin goals of the two principal elements of the Right are to control the future. That was the significance of Tuesday’s ruling by the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority to gut the Voting Rights Act. [See’s “Supreme Court’s War on Democracy.”]

Only if the votes of whites can be proportionately enhanced and the votes of minorities minimized can the Republican Party overcome the country’s demographic changes and retain government power that will both advance the interests of the racists and the free-marketeers.

That’s why Republican-controlled statehouses engaged in aggressive gerrymandering of congressional districts in 2010 and tried to impose “ballot security” measures across the country in 2012. The crudity of those efforts was almost painful to watch.

As Frank Rich noted, “The boosters of the new voting regulations would have us believe instead that their efforts are in response to a (nonexistent) rise in the country’s minuscule instances of voter fraud. Everyone knows these laws are in response to the rise of Barack Obama. It is also no coincidence that many of them were conceived and promoted by the American Legal Exchange Council, an activist outfit funded by heavy-hitting right-wing donors like Charles and David Koch.

“In another coincidence that the GOP would like to flush down the memory hole, the Kochs’ father, Fred, a founder of the radical John Birch Society in the fifties, was an advocate for the impeachment of Chief Justice Warren in the aftermath of Brown [v. Board of Education] Fred Koch wrote a screed of his own accusing communists of inspiring the civil-rights movement.”

Yet, this marriage of slavery/segregation and small-government philosophy has endured as long as there has been a United States of America. It is how the worst aspects of America’s Founding era the enslavement of African-Americans and the Southern white fear that a strong federal government would eventually right that wrong reach to the present day.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.