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Divide and Conquer: A Cautionary Tale

Lee Fang’s new book “The Machine” is a must-read for anyone who wants a firm grasp on politics on and off line. I’ve already reviewed it on Crooks and Liars so I won’t rehash that here. 

One of the most compelling chapters in his book concerns the right-wing tactic of dividing the left. Using the public option in the health care debate as an example, Lee goes through the steps taken to make sure the left was battered and divided at the end.

During the financial reform debate, a group emerged called “Stop Too Big To Fail”. They ran ads against the Dodd-Frank legislation, set up a Facebook group, issued press releases, and wrote blog posts on Daily Kos and FireDogLake promoting the idea that the Dodd-Frank legislation didn’t go far enough so it should simply be killed outright.  

Lee writes in his “K Street” chapter:

The group attacked the bill from the left, running $1.6 million worth of ads in Nevada, Virginia and Missouri asking constituents to call Democratic senators and tell them to “vote against this phony ‘financial reform.’ Support real reform, stop ‘too big too fail.'”


Instead of calling for stricter amendments, the ads simply called for killing the bill….

Complaints that the bill did not do enough to deal with the problem of overly large banking institutions caused great concern for liberals who appeared to have been won over by the Stop Too Big to Fail campaign.” 

Finally, Daily Kos and FDL posters called out the bloggers promoting STBTF on the sites. It was later revealed that the two bloggers were Robert Johnson and Jim Conran, front group lobbyists with large corporate clients all over the country. Conran was paid by Mercury Insurance Group in California to put together a campaign to try and push through a ballot measure to weaken regulations on auto insurers in the state. Other projects include pimping Splenda, and a group called “Consumers for Cable Choice.”

They succeeded, too, on the Dodd-Frank legislation. I still hear sighs about how the banks got away with murder without any attention given to how that goal was accomplished. Johnson and Conran were part of an effort conducted by DCI Group managing director Oliver Wolf. DCI’s most recent high profile campaign was the Pete Peterson “Fix the Debt” campaign.

The Stop Too Big to Fail campaign is but one of many run by K Street lobbyists, the Chamber of Commerce, and right wing operatives. It’s not paranoid to question a campaign that mushrooms from nowhere, suddenly gains a large following and a group of amazingly loyal followers who will not hesitate to shove people out of the way who ask questions. 

These campaigns succeed because they present themselves as someone on our side. Someone who agrees with us but goes out of their way to do harm to meaningful efforts to get some meaningful legislation, however imperfect, through Congress.

I see it online,  I see it on the blogs, I see it in the media, and I see it on social media, particularly Twitter. Characteristics include constant negativity with no affirmative suggestions or ideas for how to fix what they’re complaining about, a near-constant and strident stream of anti-government messages wrapped in the issue of the day. Recent examples include tweets calling the president a traitor for putting chained CPI on the table. He’s not a traitor. He’s just not doing what he said he would do, and what he is doing is bad, bad policy. Positive pressure isn’t calling him a traitor, it’s calling for action to be heard on why we disagree. Respectfully. 

I’m sure there are campaigns afoot now over the gun legislation being debated in the Senate, the immigration bills being prepared for introduction into Congress and of course, the budget. I’m not saying every left-side critic is an astroturf lobbyist by any stretch. But watch for the ad campaigns and see how they dovetail with messaging from so-called lefties.

Beware, and be aware.

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