Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I've been thinking about a couple of current stories -- Donald Trump's presidential semi-campaign (latest: he's tied for first in a CNN poll of Republicans) and the budget/debt ceiling battle. On the latter, a lot of lefties are shaking their heads at the ability of Republicans to demand (and get) outrageous concessions while threatening to cause a government default, which you'd think might get them condemned as dangerously irresponsible. Over at The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson argues that Democrats, too, should "demand the impossible" (which, at this point, would consist of Democrats merely requesting a fair hearing for mainstream economic Keyensianism, which would call for pump-priming rather than austerity until a recovery truly kicks in).

It's true that just calling for more stimulus now would seem wildly beyond the pale -- while threatening to blow up the government doesn't. But why does this double standard exist?

I've been thinking about that as I look into the links between Donald Trump and Nixon-vintage GOP saboteur Roger Stone. Stone has been touting Trump for a while, and although Trump has distanced himself from Stone recently and once called Stone a "stone-cold loser," the trickster was a strategist for Trump when Trump flirted with a presidential run in 2000, and the whole business this year has a distinctly Stone-esque air. (Recall that last year Stone was advising two candidates in the New York governor's race, the loutish billionaire Carl Paladino and an ex-madam, Kristen Davis, who was supposed to embarrass Democrats by reminding them of the peccadilloes of the last Democratic governor New York had elected, Eliot Spitzer. In a way, Trump's current stunt is a combination of those two candidacies: lout billionaire plus stunt candidate aiming at a perceived weak spot of the Democrats.)

I bring all this up because the biography of Roger Stone says a lot about our political culture's willingness to accept outrageous conduct by Republicans, and about the extremely thin line between the Republican fringe and the Republican mainstream. We know Roger Stone was a junior Nixon dirty trickster. We know he's been linked to the Brooks Brothers riot that shut down a recount in Florida in 2000. We know he founded a fake anti-Hillary Clinton group in 2008 called (note the acronym) Citizens United Not Timid. We know he threatened Eliot Spitzer's 83-year-old father and then ended Spitzer's political career with hooker revelations. A nasty guy who does nasty, frequently immature things. Right?

And yet look at the rest of his career. He was considered mainstream enough to work on both of Ronald Reagan's successful presidential campaigns. He worked on both of the gubernatorial campaigns of the courtly, preppy Tom Kean in New Jersey. He worked with George H.W. Bush's campaign when Poppy ran in 1988. He was a high-powered D.C. lobbyist. He worked on the Bob Dole presidential campaign in 1984, and left only because it was discovered that he and his wife had placed a swingers' ad seeking a man for three-way sex.

Can you imagine someone like this on the Democratic side -- a combination of Michael Moore and a bisexual Charlie Sheen -- actually being a figure of influence in or near the political mainstream? For decades?

It's like high school, or a frat-dominated college: the system is simply more tolerant of provocation by right-wingers. When lefties disrupt the flow of things, we're '60s rioters. When righties do it, they're just good ol' boys giving vent to healthy animal spirits. So they can get away with a lot more.

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