Joe Conason’s Journal

There's nothing Middle American about the wealthy ideologues who financed the attack ad against Howard Dean and his "latte-drinking, sushi-eating, left-wing freak show."

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Stephen Moore’s right-wing freak show
As of yesterday, the hot political ad in Iowa is the “barbershop” spot sponsored by the conservative Club for Growth. This little masterpiece accuses Howard Dean of planning to “raise taxes on families by $1,900 a year,” but its real message is far nastier.

“I think Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading,” barks a man leaving a barbershop; a woman with him completes the sentence: “… body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont where it belongs.”

According to club president Stephen Moore, this stream of invective describes “cultural elites across America who are the ones behind Dean,” who are so unlike the “middle-class families with Middle America values, as in Iowa, [who] are going to be very turned off by Dean’s economic program.”

Moore and his club of corporate Republicans have a long history of stirring up Midwestern rubes with demagogic advertising, but this ad’s script achieves new heights of hypocrisy. “Hollywood-loving?” Not long ago, Moore declared himself “honored” to accept an advisory position in the new administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an actor not known for his adherence to “Middle America values.”

That’s only the first layer of phoniness in Moore’s attack. There is in fact nothing “middle-class” or “Middle American” about the Club for Growth, an outfit financed and operated by such wealthy ideologues as Thomas “Dusty” Rhodes, Richard Gilder and Lawrence Kudlow.

Rhodes spent nearly two decades at Goldman Sachs. Gilder has been a stockbroker since 1954 and operates his own firm. Kudlow, of course, is the genial CNBC host and Wall Street economist (whose style of Savile Row tailoring is rarely seen in the barbershops of middle-class Middle America). All three gentlemen reside in New York City, a place even more akin to Sodom than Burlington, Vt.



And let’s not forget Club for Growth co-founder Ed Crane, the president of the Cato Institute, where Moore himself is a senior fellow. What would Iowa’s middle-class Middle Americans think of Cato’s ongoing advocacy of full drug legalization? How would that couple leaving the barbershop feel about Cato’s staunch opposition to the war in Iraq, and almost every other exercise of American military power abroad?

Most Middle Americans might regard such hippie-dippie libertarianism just as grimly as body piercing, Volvo driving, latte drinking, and New York Times-reading. They also might not appreciate Cato’s gay rights activism, embodied by executive vice president David Boaz. (Indeed, most of Middle America would probably be shocked by Boaz’s views of marriage — which he believes shouldn’t be regulated by government at all.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if many Iowans and even more Vermonters wish Moore would take his right-wing freak show back to Wall Street and K Street. That would be the most polite way to put it.

No jumping to conclusions, please
I haven’t yet finished reading the comprehensive study of the war in Iraq released today by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, but the summary is quite devastating (and follows nicely yesterday’s Washington Post exposé). Carnegie’s analysts conclude that Iraq had no nuclear program and no chemical or biological weapons of any consequence; U.N. inspections had worked and were working to contain any latent threat from Saddam Hussein; our intelligence community badly overestimated Iraq’s arsenal; U.S. and British officials exaggerated and misrepresented that intelligence; there is no significant evidence of cooperation between Saddam and al-Qaida.

Carnegie’s leadership opposed the war, so perhaps its study won’t get the attention it deserves. But today’s New York Times advances the Post’s scoop yesterday with news that the “Bush administration has quietly withdrawn from Iraq a 400-member military team whose job was to scour the country for military equipment, according to senior government officials.

“The step was described by some military officials as a sign that the administration might have lowered its sights and no longer expected to uncover the caches of chemical and biological weapons that the White House cited as a principal reason for going to war last March.”

Deeper into the story, CIA spokesman Bill Harlow argues that “the [WMD search] team needs to complete its work, and no one should jump to any conclusions before it has an opportunity to examine all of the circumstances.” It takes a special skill to say that with a straight face.
[10:30 a.m. PST, Jan. 8, 2004]

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