Ted Frier

Ted Frier
April 02
Ted Frier is an author and former political reporter turned speechwriter who at one time served as communications director for the Massachusetts Republican Party, helping Bill Weld become the first Bay State Republican in a generation to be elected Governor. He was Chief Speechwriter for Republican Governor Paul Cellucci and Lt. Governor Jane Swift. Ted is also the author of the hardly-read 1992 history "Time for a Change: The Return of the Republican Party in Massachusetts." So, why the current hostility to the Republican Party and what passes for conservatism today? The Republican Party was once a national governing party that looked out for the interests of the nation as a whole. Now it is the wholly-owned subsidiary of self interest. Conservatism once sought national unity to promote social peace and harmony. Now conservatism has devolved into a right wing mutation that uses divide and conquer tactics to promote the solidarity of certain social sub-groups united against the larger society while preserving the privileges of a few.


Ted Frier's Links

JUNE 11, 2012 1:16PM

Bain Capitalism: Socialism for the Rich

Rate: 6 Flag

The problem with socialism, as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, "is that eventually you run out of other people's money." That's the problem with Mitt Romney's cut-throat species of leveraged buyout capitalism too. Eventually you run out of ways to make a fortune on somebody else's dime.

If President Obama wants to be reelected six months from now he needs to adopt as his campaign strategy against Mitt Romney, and Mitt Romney Capitalism, his own version of the Powell Doctrine -- no matter how angry some Democrats might be with him.

Named after former Joint Chiefs Chairman and Secretary of State Colin Powell, the doctrine states that when America goes to war it must do so with overwhelming force in order to achieve a quick and decisive victory against its foes.

Under the Powell Doctrine, when American troops are put in harm's way there will be no more half measures or carefully calibrated sorties of the kind that bogged us down in the Vietnam quagmire for more than a decade. It builds on the insight of Niccolo Machiavelli, the 15th century Florentine (and Karl Rove's favorite political philosopher) who, in his masterpiece The Prince, advised that: "When you strike at a king you must kill him."

Using overwhelming force against Mitt Romney and his spotty record as absentee Governor of Massachusetts and as head of the private equity firm Bain Capital, is essential, no matter how much flak the President can expect to take from Republicans (and even members of his own party) for his criticisms of finance capitalism.

The President needs to make capitalism the issue because the hard reality is that Romney and the Republicans have a roadmap to victory that is as sinister as it is simple: Prevent President Obama from doing anything to reignite the economy or create jobs; if necessary, sabotage the economy directly; use Fox News and the windfall of Citizens United to relentlessly pound Obama for his failure to improve conditions Republicans have largely created in the first place; and finally, promise that Republicans could do better but be sure to keep details of recovery plans deliberately vague, other than to offer familiar supply-side bromides about "pro-growth" policies we know from three decades experience grow only the portfolios of the already wealthy, and not much else.

And, if all else fails, keep Democrats from voting.

With the economy stuck in neutral and Republicans refusing to lend a hand, Obama loses unless our notoriously inattentive public finally gets it through its thick skull that someone like Mitt Romney who "likes to fire people" because it makes him money isn't someone you want as president in charge of creating jobs for the rest of us.

To expose Mitt Romney as the king without clothes Obama must strike, and strike to kill, just as Machiavelli says. He must strike directly at Romney's strongest selling point: His tenure at Bain Capital and the image he means to sell as a "businessman" who understands economics and so knows how to create jobs. That means Obama must tell his own story about how private equity really works, just as Ted Kennedy did when he defeated Romney 20 years ago.

The 2008 economic collapse opened the door for a real debate about the nature of American capitalism which the 2012 election may help to resolve. So, Obama must be relentless in linking Romney to that species of "vulture capitalism" that we know is just as likely to destroy lives and livelihoods for the benefit of a few as it is to create jobs for the many.

That's the lesson we can learn from Romney's own tenure at Bain Capital, where four of the 10 companies bought by Bain while Romney was in charge subsequently went bankrupt with great hardship for workers and stockholders -- but with handsome profits for Romney and his private equity investors.

This is not the way most people think capitalism is supposed to work even as they cling to a simplistic and outdated conception of the free market where rewards are still connected to risk and hard work.

It was Newt Gingrich, not surprisingly, who instinctively apprehended the precariousness of Romney's support among white populist working class voters who saw Romney as an out-of-touch, predatory plutocrat.

In a series of searing advertisements, the bomb-throwing Gingrich tried to explode Romney's undeserved reputation as a "job creator."

"Mitt Romney was not a capitalist during his reign at Bain," Gingrich's advertisement ominously intoned. "He was a predatory corporate raider. His firm didn't seek to create value. Instead, like a scavenger, Romney looked for businesses he could pick apart. Indeed, he represented the worst possible kind of predator, operating within the law but well outside the bounds of what most real capitalists consider ethical.....He and his friends at Bain were bad guys. Any real capitalists should disavow Romney's 'creative destruction' model that made him wealthy at the expense of thousands of American jobs."

It was brutal stuff. And it had GOP oligarchs in boardrooms across America freaking out. That's because Republicans know they have a potentially serious problem on their hands with working class stiffs now that they've gone and nominated a guy who made his riches in mysterious and vaguely malevolent ways.

And so Republicans are desperate to project their own weaknesses once again onto their Democratic opponents by making sure that public resentment and envy is directed -- not at the rich -- but at those do-nothing cops, firefighters and teachers who live next door, with their secure jobs (for now) and adequate pensions (for now) and the peace of mind their neighbors do not have.

It's a lot easier for people to understand how a teacher got a raise or better health care at their expense thanks to those "union bosses" than it is to understand how Mitt Romney and Bain Capital earned their billions while their companies and our economy went kaput through something called "dividend recapitalization" or some other form of financial alchemy.

But those are the stories Obama needs to tell and retell in their every gory detail since there are hundreds of them out there as company after company was swept up by private equity firms in the early 2000s during what the New York Times called "the greatest burst of corporate takeover the world has ever seen."

From 2003 to 2007, according to the Times, 188 companies controlled by private equity firms issued more than $75 billion in debt to pay dividends to the private equity firms, like Bain Capital, that bought them. Indeed, the debt load got so heavy that a disproportionate share of companies that defaulted on their debts - more than half - were either owned or controlled by private equity during the last decade.

One company in particular was 136 year-old Simmons Bedding Company. Its well-trod path to bankruptcy was one the Times called "a tale of these financial times and an example of a growing phenomenon in corporate America."

With access to cheap money, private equity firms like Romney's were able to buy companies like Simmons with other people's money while risking little or none of their own. Then they would use their new company as collateral for further loans to pay off the banks and themselves.

"Every step along the way, the buyers put Simmons deeper into debt," reported the Times. "The financiers borrowed more and more money to pay ever higher prices for the company, enabling each previous owner to cash out profitably."

In 1991, Simmons had just $161 million in outstanding debts on its books. By 2009, after being passed through the hands of several private equity firms, the company groaned under the weight of $1.3 billion in outstanding loans. Simmons employees were even forced to pay back some of the loans their private equity owners had taken out to buy them in the first place, when the employee stock fund was ordered by owners to buy company stock as investments.  

In 1986, private equity pioneer, and Nixon Treasury Secretary, William E. Simon bought Simmons for $120 million, mostly with borrowed money. Three years later, Simon "sold" the company to his employees and their stock ownership plan for nearly twice what Simon paid for the company -- $241 million.

"The deal was a fiasco for the employees," reports the Times.  After the buyout, Simmons stopped contributing to its employee's pension fund, arguing that since workers now owned company stock they didn't need help from management with pensions. But when the housing bubble burst, so did the value of Simmons stock, and with it the employees' nest eggs.

These are the sorts of stories whose details President Obama must repeat again and again and again until they become ingrained in the minds of voters and indelible parts of the national consciousness.

Otherwise, halfhearted and generalized attacks against predatory capitalism will get buried under a landfill of laudatory platitudes about the wonderfulness of capitalism, together with charges that Obama is a radical leftist who hates freedom, hates the free market and probably hates America itself. If you strike at the king you must kill him.

Conservatives know supply-side economics has not delivered for most Americans as promised, and that for those who've met the Bain Capitals of the world face-to-face the experience has not been pretty. That is why when pissed-off Americans complain about people getting something for nothing, Republicans are making sure voters think only about the cop on the beat or the teacher at the blackboard, not the Bain Capital financier who buys companies with borrowed money then pays back the loans by looting his workers' pensions.

While right wing populists like Newt Gingrich (and, to a lesser extent Rick Perry) were ready to play the anti-tycoon card against Romney and Bain Capital, it's been dispiriting to watch Democrats like Cory Booker, Bill Clinton and Ed Rendel recoil in horror at Obama's muted attacks against the American Plutocracy.

This just shows again the bitter truth that the New Democratic wing of the Democratic Party is as much in bed with Wall Street as are the Republicans, putting Democrats in an intolerable ideological No-Man's land where they must look out for the interests of the poor and middle class but in ways that do not offend the swells, whose thinned-skinned over-reactions to President Obama's mild rebukes over the their role in the 2008 financial crisis shows just how quick they are to take offense.

"The biggest flaw in Obama's strategy is not that swing voters can't stomach his populist attacks, but that his fellow Democratic politicians can't," says Daily Beast columnist Peter Beinart. Neither were the Bain attacks likely to be popular with the establishment media, whose upper middle-class orientation causes it to skew right on economic matters no matter what it's reputation might be for "liberal bias," says Beinart.

But Obama can't win reelection with the votes of young, single, and  minority voters alone, says Beinart. He needs to hold down his losses among blue-collar whites, "a group with which he has always struggled," and one that might be receptive to a well-made case about the sort of predatory capitalism practiced by people like Romney.

Republicans will accuse Obama of attacking the free market system "that built this country" no matter what he does.  But as the Washington Post's business writer Steven Pearlstein reminds us, there are many different kinds of capitalism. And one of the most important debates we're having in the country today is what kind of capitalism we want to have.

There is the robber baron variety, says Pearlstein, "where the economy fell increasingly under the control of a handful of clever entrepreneurs and financiers who ruthlessly used their economic power to enhance their political power, and vice versa."

There was the corporate or "managerial" kind that took hold after the Great Depression where competition was a gentlemanly affair managed between big business, big government and big labor -- and where business cycles were relatively tame and the gap between rich and poor shrank as more Americans joined the middle class.

There is also the "state capitalism" they have in places like China; the "worker capitalism" that was a momentary fad in the 1980s; the "entrepreneurial capitalism" where people make money on bright ideas and new inventions concocted in their garages; and the "shareholder capitalism" where workers are interchangeable and expendable and companies exist only to maximize value for shareholders.

And now there is "financial capitalism," where Pearlstein says "the focus has shifted from running companies to simply buying and selling them for profit." As more of the country's capital gets diverted toward trading and financial engineering, more and more of America's profits will be captured by a relatively small number of investment bankers, hedge fund managers and people like Mitt Romney who run private-equity funds.

Most Republicans will of course cry foul if Obama decides to go after Romney and Bain, charging that the President is now running a divisive campaign instead of one premised on "hope," and that he is now stoking resentments against the wealthy based on populist appeals to the darker impulses of envy and hate.

This is particularly hilarious coming as it does from Republicans who, after their partial victory in Wisconsin (where they kept the governorship but lost the Senate), made it abundantly clear that a centerpiece of their campaign between now and November will be stoking popular envy and resentment against all those overpaid, over-indulged public sector cops, firemen and even teachers who put their lives on the line everyday.

And so, if Obama abandons his attacks on private equity because of Democratic squeamishness over biting the Wall Street hand that feeds it, this will legitimize a species of predatory capitalism that even right wingers like Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry realized could drive a wedge between Romney and blue collar voters.

It's true that with the Republican primary now over, and Newt Gingrich safely retooled as a Romney surrogate, the former Speaker has disavowed his earlier populist attacks on Romney's career at Bain. But it's not because Gingrich was wrong, he wants us to know, only that the tactic didn't work given that Gingrich was competing in the primary of a Republican Party that's the wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street.

What all the hand-wringing from Booker and Clinton and the mainstream media over Obama's opening attacks against Bain Capital illustrate, says Peter Beinart, is how difficult it is to run against the financial industry in a political system virtually controlled by the financial industry. But like it or not, says Beinart, "those are the rules of the game that Obama must win this fall."

To govern is to choose, and so if President Obama wants to keep on governing he must choose which side he is on.

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
There's a lot of good information in this post, but it's too long, and your very valid, salient points could be missed. I'd boil this down to no more than five solid talking points and repost it for the masses. You should be working for the Obama campaign!
You're nothing if not thorough -- would that the Obama team follow your lead and utterly destroy the myth of Mitt your average neighborhood businessman. It as plain as the proverbial nose on his face that Mitt is what I call a Chainsaw Capitalist, so called after Al "Chainsaw" Dunlap.

It is utterly ridiculous to say these pirates are interested in creating jobs -- the absolute opposite is true; their modus operandi is to eliminate jobs as a means to temporarily increase profit margins. Gutting the labor force -- and the axe frequently falls on the most experienced and thus expensive workers -- at a company all but inevitably leads to ruin. But by the time that chicken comes home to roost, Mitt and his henchman are long gone with the borrowed and stolen loot -- especially from pension funds -- and off to suck the lifeblood from the next victim. I'm not suggesting such men are vampires but I am convinced they are sociopaths.

And I'm not alone. The following is from The Psychopath Test http://www.arkancide.com/psychopathy.htm :

(1)Tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile.
(2) A grossly inflated view of one's abilities and self-worth, self-assured, opinionated, cocky, a braggart.
(3) Low self-discipline in carrying tasks through to completion because they get bored easily
(4) A habit of pathological lying
(5) Use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain
(6) Lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, coldhearted, and unempathic.
(7) Emotional poverty or a limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness in spite of signs of open gregariousness.
(8) A lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless.

Clearly, Mitt scores high enough on every one of those 8 symptoms alone (out of the 20) to conclude he is at least a sociopath.

The vindictive in me says any voter who can't see him for what he is deserves what they get -- but the realist in me understands that the rain falls on everyone. I may get some unjust desserts myself thanks to their ignorance and willful blindness.
Did you see the interview yesterday of Bill Clinton with Maria Bartollomeo? He took the middle road, saying each case has to be taken separately when it comes to Bain and private equity in general.

But I don't think it matters. All that does is Romney got rich doing it and that's what provides him with the status to convince those fundamentally conservative. Their view has nothing to do with what may benefit the society, only themselves and their ideology, whether it actually applies to them or not.

Clinton did not outright come out for tax increases and later was corrected by the Obama people and recanted. The war is definitely on. The voters are going to get a choice on this one but I just got back from a trip through the South and I am very, very skeptical.

Moynihan said America is ideologically conservative and liberal in practice. I've never seen it quite so true. They see him as a threat to their way of life and Liberals are still walking around with their head up their ass as far as I can see.

The cultural divide is taking precedence to the political. It doesn't matter what the issues are--ideology is the coin of the realm. I am more convinced than ever Obama will not receive a second term.
I, on the other hand, thought every word was necessary. You cannot explain these things in a few good 'sound bites.' They are complex enough in the fact without taking any short-cuts in the description.

It has been the bane of my existence that it is virtually impossible to explain to people that our present form of predatory capitalism is only one form of capitalism; that there are others. Even beyond the ones you named and described, there are still others.

Yet, much as I admire your work here in making this crystal clear, it will not likely have much effect. The average person "knows what he knows" and is highly resistant to being (re)educated; especially if such education is at variance with his beliefs.

As things are now, the difference between Democrats and Republicans is largely cosmetic. They are both owned by the same financial interests and obey their orders from those interests explicitly. You may be sure that the rape of the middle/working class/small businessman will continue apace no matter who sits in the White House.

I'll be watching how this all plays out with great interest.....

I think that the Dems need to highlight what Bain is/does compared to small business. The big problem a lot of blue collar and middle class people seem to have is the lack of ability to differentiate between small business, and big corporations, and banks, etc. It's been successfully painted as business (all business) vs. those lazy welfare/unemployed/entitlement liberals. Small business sees themselves as "business". These people need a wake up call, and as you said, taking apart what Bain Capital actually does, which is destroying existing businesses for profit, would be huge.
Lots of good comments everyone, thank you.

Ben, glad you made it back safely from your trip to the Deep South. I may have mentioned that I lived for a time in Montgomery Alabama, and so from that experience, and the Facebook comments from my old high school friends who so casually accept the most cartoonish falsehoods about Obama and what he's done, I understand why you may be feeling forebodings of doom.

Skypixieo, thank you for indulging my prolixity. But I can hear other readers saying: Don't encourage him, he'll try for 3,000 words next time! You're right about banging your head against a wall with some people. I've got one of those walls at home that has an indentation which fits my the shape of my cranium perfectly! We've all had the experience of trying to get through to people who are surrounded by the Fox News force-field -- part of which is to deny that they ever watch Fox! -- who parry whatever we have to say using exactly the same arguments made with exactly the same words. But maybe its not to convince them that we write but to reach those around them who may yet be reachable.
Your point about "reaching those who are still reachable" is a good one. I have discovered, and I suspect you have too, that both the right and the left have adopted certain buzz-words/phrases, that they use when both criticizing "them others" and when lauding those whom they favour.

It is necessary, therefore, to avoid using any such words/phrases when talking to them about these things lest they detect what they think of as an attitude sympathetic to "them others". This requires a mastery of the language that I find myself reaching for without always being at all successful. My life revolves around non-buzzword synonyms!

You seem to have much the same difficulty. I note many of the buzzwords used by both left and right in your writing, but with a predominance of those from the left. Since the left has, for its own easily understood reasons, decided that ALL capitalism is "bad capitalism" they instantly balk at the use of any buzzwords commonly used by the right. The 'right', having decided the same thing about the left, similarly balks at any hint of lefty buzzwords.

What to do...... What to do.....

masterful as usual however, you may be ignoring the lesson of gingrichs campaign, which frankly was quite similar to "the two americas" of john edwards [oh how the mighty have fallen]. the lesson seems to be that you just cant be too direct about the truth with american voters after decades of propaganda and no mental "frame" to comprehend the reality of our present situation.... for obama to go all out on the message about predatory capitalism is to take a great risk with eg his campaign finances. however, the whitehouse announcement that it refuses to sign a continuation of bush era tax cuts on the rich is an encouraging sign. on the other hand the whitehouse made similar noises in not passing vs passing that odious bill that mixes up citizens vs noncitizens wrt natl security.... Im trying to remember which one [ouch]

Here is a theory: The words you are talking about aren't buzzwords so much as "shorthands" which have the advantage of saving time but are only useful as a way to communicate is there is a shared consensus about what those words mean and, more important, what connotation they impart, whether positive or negative. One goal of ideology is to destroy the consensus around the meaning, and connotations, of certain words (like liberal, empathy, government for example) to advance ideological goals but in ways that almost makes it impossible to communicate with those who disagree with us. That's fine for the right which is tribal by nature and competes by promoting group solidarity and dividing and conquering. It is less good for liberals who are trying to build a larger community through the inclusiveness which the right derides as either multiculturalism or political correctness. So I guess the moral of the story, at least from my experience with relatives who I disagree with sharply is to be aware that those shortcut words can also be dead ends and to be very careful about the words we do choose.

In a related matter, I ran across this on Kevin Drum's Mother Jones blog that provides insight into the Fox News propaganda technique that helps destroy the consensus meaning and connotation of words. I is about a guy who spent time watching Fox and MSNBC to compare their styles. Says Drum:

All three shows on FOX essentially cover the same four stories, in different orders. (Those stories are the Wisconsin recall, birtherism, planned parenthood promotes gender-based abortion, and the obligatory anti-Obama story.) There is some variation in the Obama smack-downs, but all of the others hammer home the exact same arguments using the exact same verbiage; each is pretty much interchangeable with the other, and might well have been penned by a single source.

....On the other hand, MSNBC has only one story covered by all three programs: the obligatory anti-Romney segments, which do not have the uniformity in commentary that FOX has with its anti-Obama segments. (And the truth is that grouping Maddow’s commentary with Shultz’s or O’Donnell’s is a huge stretch. Shultz and O’Donnell’s Romney rants seem more akin to the FOX anti-Obama screeds, politics aside.) Past that there is very little overlap at MSNBC. Whereas FOX’s shows have the appearance of a concerted and strategized effort, the hosts of MSNBC are all over the map.

And there you have it: liberalism vs. conservatism in a nutshell. We may be able to rant as well as they do, but we're just not as disciplined about it. The Fox hosts get their marching orders in the morning, and off they go. The memes of the day get promoted in lockstep. (And, as Tod would have noticed if he'd watched all day, these same memes are promoted, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, throughout the day on other programs as well.)

But liberals? Well, over the past few years we've decided that we're willing to yell into the camera too if that's what it takes to compete, but by God no one tells us what to say. That's just too humiliating. However, I suspect that this is at least part of the reason that conservative memes find their way into the mainstream media more often and more forcefully than liberal memes. They just repeat theirs more vigorously. Pretty good strategy, huh?
As you already know, I fall into neither camp although at some times both have claimed me and at others both have repudiated me. (I's so good to be loved/hated!)

I agree completely that the buzzwords (shorthand, if you prefer) "are only useful as a way to communicate is there is a shared consensus about what those words mean and, more important, what connotation they impart, whether positive or negative."

That two (or more?) meanings can be ascribed to a simple phrase is exemplified by the phrase, "Dictatorship of The Proletariat". The 'left' "hears" only the word "proletariat" while the 'right' "hears" only the word "dictatorship".

When someone uses the phrase, "predatory capitalism" some hear only "predatory" and some only "capitalism". Unfortunately, too many people equate all forms of capitalism with this form of it. This is, perhaps, not surprising, since this is the only form of it with which they are familiar.

My attempts to explain egalitarian capitalism run smack up against an "I already know what capitalism is" attitude. Trying to explain that capitalism is NOT a social system but is a tool that the social system may, if it wishes, make use of in order to meet the needs and wants of a society, meet with the same, pre-conceived prejudice about anything to do with capitalism.
I fear you are falling into the trap of false equivalency. No one in their right mind (that disqualifies a lot of voters) would deny that Fox is a right-wing organ and that MSNBC is largely a cheerleader for the Left. But -- and it's a mighty big BUT -- sins of omission do not equate with sins of commission.

Fox routinely lies as a matter of policy, employing such tactics as deliberately mislabeling with a (D) next to the name of a Republican politician caught with his pants down. I have yet to hear even one Fox "journalist" apologize on air for a factual error, in fact, even after they are exposed, they continue to repeat the lie.

Yes, MSNBC slants the news, but I've yet to hear any of their commentators state as fact something that wasn't true; or if so, they made on-air apologies and corrections. To equate what goes on at MSNBC with what goes on at Fox is simply a disservice to MSNBC and to news in general.

In short, Fox is an outlier, not a news organization but a propaganda arm of the Republican Party, and it needs to be treated as such.
Ted, you make a strong case for Obama launching an attack along these lines. However, as a political strategist (and one who has been wrong often enough that I don't fully trust my own judgment) I suspect it would be open to the cheap anti-capitalism/pro-socialist counter-attack. The argument doesn't fit easily on a bumper-sticker and sadly enough that is the level of political discourse that resonates with a large chunk of the population.

On the commentary discussion re Fox vs MSNBC, here is my own theory of why right wing media works so much better. When I listen to Fox or its radio brethren, the message is "Terrible things are happening and it's THEM (people who aren't like YOU) who are screwing you and your community".

The lefty message is more like "Terrible things are happening and why aren't YOU doing more to remedy it". No surprise which one resonates.

You are right about the false equivalence thing in Drum's post. There I disagree with his characterization of Lawrence O'Donnell and Ed Schultz for example and there is a big difference between advocacy and propaganda even if there might seem to be similarities on the surface. My reason for reposting it is the point it makes about the repetition of words and arguments on Fox as if the product is being centrally controlled. As a professional communicator and someone paid (mostly by Republicans) to make arguments that was the first indication to me that something had gone wrong in the conservative movement, when all I heard were talking points and misleading phrases again and again. One of the interesting things that I found when I started working in government with the incoming Republican administration is that the "liberal bureaucrats" we'd whacked so often understood our ideas as well as we did and often agreed with a lot of them. They were ready to incorporate our ideas and basic principles into policy where they could or show us where they were impractical given certain realities we'd not bothered to account for.

But the point was they took these ideas seriously -- much more seriously than conservatives for whom they were just bumper sticker slogans designed to divide the community and win power but were unconnected to the real world in which they had to be implemented. That was eye opening to me.

Abrawang, you are unfortunately right about the potency of fear as a political device. I am reading Rachel Maddow's book on the militarization of American society, Drift, and that is one of her main themes: war and the threatening of it against Evil Doers as an unbeatable political device.

I drove through the backcountry in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Northern Florida. At some points, I saw Evangelical churchs every five miles FOR HUNDREDS OF MILES. I heard Obama on the radio referred to as "Satan." I saw billboards everywhere denouncing him. My relatives there blanched when I showed them pictures of my dark skinned girlfriend.

And yet the "issues" in the election have little if anything to do with this overwhelming reality, and even if you try to find a middle ground, such as the absurdity of only seeing politics through the lens of ideology, you are a threat.

I'm getting bored with it for the sake of my own well being.
In-breeding has always been a problem in the South -- of ideas as well as genes.

That is the South I remember, and the one still reflected in comments I see on Facebook. Those of us who grew up in politics or in "cosmopolitan" surroundings are accustomed to dealing with people with different ideas and so we act accordingly. But I can still see the look of shock and offense on the faces of some of my Southern friends when they found out I did not share the hive's honeycombed-like uniform point of view. And you are right, this is all on tribal/cultural grounds, not political ones at all.

One friend said, "I don't even know how to relate to you anymore," as if it were my fault the friendship was about to dissolve just because I had a slightly more sophisticated definition of "socialism" than "Democrat." It is why I say that the GOP is unfit for democracy, because it made a pact with the devil when it tried to absorb right wing Southern conservatism -- and the redneck devils won. I loved the South and found Southerns to be lovely people for the most part. But there is a real ugliness to Southern conservatism. It has never matured politically -- because it does not believe in politics at all, since politics implies differences and the peaceful working out of same.

Tom DeLay said all that needed to be said for this virulent strain of populism, and he said it best: we don't need no stinkin' "preening self-styled preening statesmen who have elevated compromise to a first principle." These are not the sort of people who would agree with James Madison that the heart and soul of the US Constitution is its ability to "break and control the violence of faction." These are people who proudly call themselves "Constitutional Conservatives" as they seek to pass a new amendment inserting the Ten Commandments in place of the the first Ten Amendments of the Bill of Rights.
This occurs to me on the topic of religion: With Catholicism and its centralized control and missionary committment, it is not so subjected to the need for the preacher to submit to the local prejudices and fears. To be sure, it is the business of religion, but in a sense more "corporate" and able to survive as an entity without that particular institutional dilemma.

One wonders: how many of those Evangelical churches are integrated, and even if "Whites" and "Blacks" supposedly practice the same faith--what kind faith can that be as a form of "higher conscience." I suspect Obama knows this better than anyone.