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Putinization Watch

Yet another in a depressing continuing series. Josh Marshall notes that the Republican National Committee is now threatening legal action against media outlets and independent advocacy groups who criticize the president. The RNC, as I trust I needn't point out, is, at this point, rather intimately connected to the state apparatus of this fine nation of ours. Now to be fair, in Russia they prefer to silence critics with legal action unrelated to the substance of the criticism. Trying to make use of libel and slander laws to shield political leaders from criticism is more the sort of thing you see in Singapore or Jordan. Still, the basic point should, I think, be clear. But libertarians need no longer worry about President Bush -- after all, all of this is being done for the sake of gutting Social Security!

UPDATE: You should probably consider sending MoveOn some turkee to demonstrate that there are still people in this country who won't stand for this sort of thing. The only way to get the RNC to cut this kind of bullshit out is if it can be made demonstratbly counterproductive by doing more to help MoveOn's fundraising than it does to stifle their ability to exercise the rights of free speech and free assembly.

February 7, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

It's tough to see how the RNC has standing to sue, even if MoveOn's ads are libelous. They would be defaming not the RNC, but the President, so it would be tough for the RNC to make out a claim at all.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Feb 7, 2005 1:55:33 PM

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find any (non partisan hack) libertarians who aren't appalled by this, Social Security or no...

Posted by: Tim | Feb 7, 2005 2:15:07 PM

Dear Dear Matthew,

Thank you restoring the type siz. I was hoping the cajoling would work :)

Posted by: lise | Feb 7, 2005 2:37:02 PM

Wait a minute, I am probably the last person here to defend the RNC, but can you really say that they are threatening legal action? They are trying to bully the media, obviously, but I don't think you can blame them for threatening legal action just because they use words "falsely and maliciously" in their bullying letters to television stations. Come on, let's be fair. They are hideous enough as is.

Posted by: abb1 | Feb 7, 2005 2:46:22 PM

Sadly, Ernst Mayr has just died. The monumental evolutionary biologist of the last century. Imagine continuing research and writing till we are 100. Sadly the New York Times, almost as though to compensate for just writing so warmly of Ernst Mayr, today published a op ed column on intelligent design. Between PBS being under attack and bowing to critics of Buster Rabbit and his friends in Vermont maple country, and the New York Times allowing a pretend biologist to print with no answer, we are surely regressing.

Posted by: lise | Feb 7, 2005 2:46:53 PM

"Falsely and maliciously" is a legal term of art for one of the elements of a libel action.

Posted by: JP | Feb 7, 2005 3:45:35 PM

Mr. free-access-to-Lexis, can you refresh my memory? There was another issue where the RNC sent threatening letters over an ad, basically making the same argument- this ad says the President will have to do X, but the President said he really really cross his heart won't do X, so to claim he will do X is libelous. What was X? (And bonus points- did he actually end up doing X?)

Posted by: SP | Feb 7, 2005 3:55:32 PM

This seems like an extraordinarily bad move for the RNC, in that it can only result in boatloads of publicity for Moveon's challenge to the administration's snow job on social security. Surely there is no shortage of Democratic lawyers eager to take on the RNC in court on Moveon's behalf, as a high-profile way of making the RNC look bad and exposing social security propaganda at the same time. Somebody forgot to ask Karl about this one.

Posted by: moniker | Feb 7, 2005 4:12:08 PM

SP,

I've lost count of the instances, so would you like them in alphabetical or time sequential order?

Posted by: Harold Babar | Feb 7, 2005 4:17:27 PM

SP, it was Rock the Vote. Rock the Vote was talking about the draft and got a nasty letter from Ed Gillespie: http://blog.rockthevote.com/2004_10_10_archive.html

Posted by: JF | Feb 7, 2005 4:38:37 PM

Harold- You know of many instances where the RNC specifically sent legally threatening letters to get an ad pulled? I'm sure the RNC often complains about media coverage, etc., but I only (parially) remember one other time when the threat of legal action came up because an ad dared to question El Presidente's sincerity. I believe it was a campaign ad by a 501c last year, maybe even MoveOn.
Ok, I got off my ass and googled it myself, it was when Rock The Vote said there might be a draft, and the RNC said that Bush stated in a debate, "There won't be a draft," therefore suggesting there might be is libelous. Do you have any other examples?

Posted by: SP | Feb 7, 2005 4:42:14 PM

Yes, JF beat me to it. So far, "backdoor draft" notwithstanding, he hasn't done it yet.
Here's Josh Marshall's discussion of that one. Note the same specific legal language laying the groundwork for legal action:
"malicious intent and a reckless disregard for the truth"

Posted by: SP | Feb 7, 2005 4:50:40 PM

Surely there is no shortage of Democratic lawyers eager to take on the RNC in court on Moveon's behalf, as a high-profile way of making the RNC look bad and exposing social security propaganda at the same time.

That would be true if they had standing to sue; Dem lawyers would just love tearing them up on the merits (it would really be a gimme; proving "actual malice," the standard for libel actions brought by public figures, is a giant hurdle to clear).

But they don't have standing. They're just blowing smoke.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Feb 7, 2005 5:06:26 PM

It seems to me that this is the kind of thing "grownup Republicans" should speak out about (and, perhaps, threaten to withhold their contributions from the RNC until it ceases). If they don't, then I guess we have an upper bound for how adult they are.

Posted by: Ravi | Feb 7, 2005 5:25:08 PM

Safire Question:

Anyone know the origin of the word "turkee"?

Is it a Duncan Black coinage?

Was "turkey" used for fundraising before "turkee"?

Curious minds want to know.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 7, 2005 6:17:48 PM

"Turkee" comes from Atrios's brilliant ripoff of the note the kid who mentioned his mother was a lesbian had to write and carry home. In Atrios's version, the What Happened to Me section was: "Preznit no giv me turkee."

Posted by: SqueakyRat | Feb 7, 2005 6:40:06 PM

"Turkee" comes from Atrios's brilliant ripoff of..."

Google is no help in locating the original Atrios post.

And how did it metastasize into the fundraising meaning?

Posted by: Petey | Feb 7, 2005 6:49:25 PM

Semi-OT in as much as it's actually about Russia:

Putinization, by Gary Kasparov (or Caligula in Moscow)

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Feb 7, 2005 8:57:23 PM

That Putin is a bad, bad man; clearly worse than Bush, it seems to me--and that's saying something. He's not as powerful as G-Dub, so the damage he's doing is perhaps lesser in scope, but wow! The intensity of his will to cement power is clearly awesome.

Pooty-poot's ruthlessness transcends Bush's placid, thoughtless thuggery. Even Dick Cheney is a complete fucking piker compared to Putin, it seems to me. It's an interesting thought exercise--if a man as bad as Putin took over the United States ca. 2004, how much worse would the world be in a couple of years than what we'd be getting from Bush?

Posted by: bobo brooks | Feb 7, 2005 10:12:08 PM

I think the "turkee" reference traces back even further to Bush's "bold" trip to Iraq on Thanksgiving, where he was photographed offering a giant plate of turkey to our brave soldiers and the hand-picked media members who accompanied him.

Posted by: MQ | Feb 7, 2005 10:42:40 PM

That Putin is a bad, bad man; clearly worse than Bush...how much worse would the world be in a couple of years than what we'd be getting from Bush?

Putin is better. He is not religious, he is not messianic, he is a pragmatist. Putin is not nearly as dangerous; he is an more or less ordinary politician. So, he was a KGB? Bush1 was a head of the CIA; you can't get more creepy than that.

Posted by: abb1 | Feb 8, 2005 4:15:58 AM

"Putin is better. He is not religious, he is not messianic..."

I think you badly confuse which parts of Bush are political and which parts are personal.

Bush is plainly not a particularly religious man in his personal life or his inner convictions. His willingness to appropriate religion for political purposes is disturbing, but that's a very different thing from thinking an armageddon obsessed Jesus freak is in the WH.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 8, 2005 4:47:48 AM

"Putin is better."

And one thing I've noticed about you, abb1, is that you're not that big on elections and the rule of law.

I'm pretty unhappy to have Bush in the WH, but I don't worry about him canceling elections or changing the rule of law in ways that can't be easily fixed. I wouldn't feel so sanguine about those things if Putin were my nation's leader.

The American equivalent to the Khodorovsky trial would be if Bush had George Soros arrested for contributing to the Democrats. No matter how bad Bush is on specific matters of policy, we're nowhere near that level of danger.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 8, 2005 4:53:50 AM

Petey,
most politicians will go as far as they can, provided they can get away with it. There is a clear boundary in the US history: Nixon/Watergate; the Russian Federation is yet to find their. The Khodorovsky trial has a lot to do with the Russian political system and not much do to with Putin personally. I think Bush approving tortue is probably more radical event in the US legal framework than Khodorovsky trial in the Russian legal framework.

As far as the elections are concerned, I think political freedom (even though is mostly an illusion anyway) is one of the most fundamental objectives. But not the only one. People want other things too: prosperity, equality, national greatness/independence. In Singapore they trade political freedom for prosperity. In Russia over 50% of the population consider Stalinism positive period in their history because they're missing that feeling of national greatness. That's just how it is, it's not something I invented.

Posted by: abb1 | Feb 8, 2005 11:29:44 AM

Forget, for a moment, the events that the two leaders have respectively set in motion--as abb1 points out, the events themselves are largely determined by the frameworks in which they occur.

Look, rather, at the men themselves. Putin just radiates badness--full-blown badness, too, without a trace of self-delusion. Bush is certainly arrogant, but I couldn't for a minute imagine him getting his hands bloody; for him, that's underling's work. I could easily see Putin killing a rival with his bare fucking hands.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Feb 8, 2005 12:53:08 PM

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