Wisconsin progressives have watched with disgust as Republicans and their minions have turned last year's million-plus signatures on various recall petitions into a set of McCarthyesque black lists. Or maybe it's more like a set of Nixonian "enemies lists." In either case, any Wisconsin resident who signed a petition to recall any Republican from Scott Walker on down last year has since been put at risk of being singled out -- and called out -- by these scurrilous political opportunists.
Wisconsin school teachers, lawyers and judges already have been named on conservative web sites for daring to exercise their constitutional rights, and at times portrayed as somehow anti-American. Conservatives have gone so far as to suggest (wrongly) that some of these singled-out signers have done something unethical or illegal, and that they should be shunned, fired or worse.
It's just the latest indication that Republicans and many conservatives no longer know any bottom. Any political edge they can apply justifies the means, no matter how vile. We've not seen this type of tactic used en masse since the 1950s and Joe McCarthy's constant but undocumented accusations against supposed "communist" Americans. Or, if you prefer, since Richard Nixon's celebrated "enemies list."
Now, it's entirely true that recall petitions are public documents open for inspection, but Republicans have taken advantage of that and modern computer technology to create searchable online databases and begin selective villification for their own political benefit. They've even been aided and abetted by select mainstream news organizations. For instance, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has published an online database of recall signers and invited readers to explore it.
[Ironically, these purveyors are also selective critics of Democratic-mounted recalls, who benefit by making future petition signers fearful of being raked over the coals in public for lending their name to a political effort. Their own recall efforts against Democrats of course received no such introspection.]
Mewanwhile, what of the Republican Party's projected fear that Democrats and progressives might engineer this very type of black list aimed at the GOP and its supporters? Say, against Republicans and conservatives who earlier signed recall petitions against Democrats? No such organized black listing campaign from the Democratic Party or the left has emerged. Nevertheless, Republicans suddenly perceive a real analog to their own black listing tactics.
In Washington, D.C., Republican senators have been busy the past couple of days filibustering the DISCLOSE Act, a Democratic initative to shed transparency on the huge, fast-growing millions and even billions of dollars in dark money. Thanks to the Supreme Court's awful Citizens United decision, this money is being directed with great anonymity from corporate and weatlhy elites to influence election campaigns.
The idea behind the Citizens United ruling arguably was to create an unstoppable conservative hegemony over "free" speech by getting rid of any true campaign spending limits or record-keeping. The idea behind the DISCLOSE Act is to expose dark spending, at least to some extent -- a type of openness that pertained for decades before the Citizens United ruling, and which enjoyed bipartisan support, especially after Watergate.
One of the big movers against the DISCLOSE Act is one of the biggest dark money donors -- the by-now infamous Koch Brothers. And one of the biggest beneficiaries of dark campaign money in the US Senate? According to the Sunlight Foundation, seven GOP senators who benefited from dark money during the 2010 campaign all voted against the DISCLOSE bill. Among them: millionaire businessman Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), who overall, despite his own wealth, has benefited from overall dark campaign spending of $2.6 million. (See URL below)
So how do Republican senators in open debate explain their repeated anti-DISCLOSE Act filibusters? Why, they claim that if the public were able, as in the past, to know just who was spending all this dark money in an effort to influence opinion, citizens and activist groups could -- and they use this exact word -- "harass" Republicans. Listen to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as recorded by the aforementioned Moyers. A better example of GOP projection you will not find.
[McConnell] used to say, "We need to have real disclosure," [but] has changed his tune. Now that conservatives and the GOP are able to haul in the big bucks, he claims that divulging the identity of corporate donors would be the equivalent of creating an "enemies list," like the one Richard Nixon kept to punish his foes and settle political scores. Here's what McConnell said in a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute last month:
>> "This is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third party allies... That's why it's a mistake to view the attacks we've seen on 'millionaires and billionaires' as outside our concern. Because it always starts somewhere; and the moment we stop caring about who's being targeted is the moment we're all at risk."
McConnell's not the only one -- every Republican voted to kill the DISCLOSE Act, including fourteen who just a couple of years ago supported it. Groups like Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty smell an un-American conspiracy lurking behind the demands for disclosure. So do the National Rifle Association and FreedomWorks -- the Tea Party organizers originally funded by David Koch -- each of which warned senators that their votes on the DISCLOSE Act will be included in the scorecards they keep, recording each ballot they don't approve like pins in a voodoo doll.
The GOP hypocrisy here is clear: If any citizen or group or even the government itself wants to track the political campaign spending of corporations or billionaires, why, that's an attack on their "freedom." Meanwhile, it's okay to go ahead and nibble and even chomp away at the reputations and rights of school teachers and lawyers and anyone else who might happen to lend their names to any openly mounted progressive cause, because those little people are, in the GOP mindset, fair game.
Even shorter version: Disclosure if you're progressive, secrecy if you're conservative. That's what the past few months has shown us is the current GOP mindset.