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David Weigel: The Remaking Of The Right

Is the conservative right undergoing a transformation? Journalist David Weigel thinks so. Weigel covers the Republican party for the online magazine The Washington Independent.


Other segments from the episode on September 23, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 23, 2009: Interview with David Weigel; Review of Steve Lehman's new album "Travail, transformation and flow."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
David Weigel: The Remaking Of The Right


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. The election of Barack Obama as president
has set off a new kind of protest movement in this country. It’s a right-wing
movement that has been interrupting town hall meetings, staging tea party
protests and challenging Obama’s citizenship. The new influence of Fox News TV
host Glenn Beck was demonstrated by the 9/12 March on Washington, which he
promoted on his show.

My guest, David Weigel, is reporting on the Republican Party and how the right
is changing for the Web magazine The Washington Independent. He’s a former
associate editor at the libertarian magazine Reason, and he’s been published in
liberal and conservative magazines, including The Nation, the American
Conservative, the American Spectator and the American Prospect. Last weekend,
he reported from the Values Voter Summit, which was organized by the Family
Research Council. They’re known for opposing homosexuality and abortion.

David Weigel, Welcome to FRESH AIR. Are you seeing something different on the
right than what you’ve seen before?

Mr. DAVID WEIGEL (Reporter): Yes, I’ve been seeing, as I cover any number of
events, as I cover a Value Voter Summit, which has happened a few times in the
past, as I cover a tea party, which is something brand new this year, all those
have a greater emphasis on economic issues and on constitutional issues, really
deep, to-the-core constitutional issues.

GROSS: Now, it’s interesting. For a while, I was thinking how – why is it that
I’m hearing so much on the right about immigration, opposition to health-
insurance reform and not so much about the issues that we’ve been hearing about
for so long from the right, particularly the Christian right, which is
homosexuality and abortion. Has there been a shift in emphasis?

Mr. WEIGEL: There has. And even at this, the Values Voter Summit held in D.C.
this last weekend, people who were first and foremost anti-abortion activists,
people who – including a woman, Leila Rose(ph), who has been trying to do
undercover stings at Planned Parenthood, operations to defund them, that one,
they all said that they were more worried now about the Constitution being
ripped apart than they had been in the past. If it wasn’t a pre-eminent issue,
it was part of the issue basket that concerns them, and two, that just
everything had come together for them.

Yes, it was a huge problem before that they couldn’t trust unelected judges to
enforce the law of the land and overturn Roe versus Wade, but they’ve got a
bigger problem now, and I’m seeing a lot of weaving together of fears to build
this sort of grand theory that it’s really just the rise of socialism on the
left, the rise of these powerful, radical organizations. They’ve been trying to
roll back the Constitution all along, and they’re succeeding on more fronts
now. So they’ve got to fight them on more fronts.

GROSS: So why do you think there is this now strengthened concern on the right
about the Constitution being undermined? Where is that coming from?

Mr. WEIGEL: Well, it was always there, but there’s been a rediscovery of some
primary texts of the conservative movement recently. And one that you heard
about at the Values Voter Summit, one you’ve heard about a lot recently, it’s
been selling out at Amazon, selling out of bookstores and in huge demand at
libraries is Cleon Skousen’s “The 5,000 Year Leap,” which is – he was a Mormon
scholar, theologian with a few conspiratorial directions, if I want to be kind
to him, who argued that the founders had 28 concepts that guided them, and they
were all - they were divine concepts. Americans, in getting away from that, are
getting away from God’s vision for the country.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEIGEL: And I’m usually loath to prescribe a lot of the movement’s power to
one book, but a lot of it comes from there. A lot of it comes from their
discovery of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” which they – and when I say
they, I’m saying social conservatives, economic conservatives believe Barack
Obama and liberals use successfully to tear their movement down.

They view that it’s sort of an antithetical text. It’s here are European
socialists whose vision for America is not inspired by God but inspired by
atheistic Marxism. Here is how they want to tear the institutions down. So
they’re trying to reverse-engineer that. And so I think it’s been very direct
and – actually, you know, sort of scholarly interpretation of the way this
stuff works. And one thing I think’s important is that, as there’s – a lot of
people have noticed, the center of the conservative punditocracy, let’s say,
has shifted from the Sean Hannity types to the more Glenn Beck, Mark Levin

These are radio hosts – in Beck’s case, radio host and TV host – who talk
obsessively about the Constitution, what the founders wanted, whether health
care was in the Constitution. The answer is (unintelligible) it’s not there,
whether czars were in the Constitution. And there’s actually more burrowing
into that than there is just making fun of Democrats, which is what they could
do when they had power in the Bush years.

GROSS: Now, you know, getting back to the book by Cleon Skousen, who had a view
of the Constitution that is becoming popular now, that view - correct me if I’m
wrong - but that view basically said that God’s law is the basis of the

Mr. WEIGEL: That’s not wrong. That’s an extremely mainstream belief, and it’s
mainstream among Republican politicians. They don’t always go to that as the
first principle. The first thing is, like, when they’re talking about the
Constitution in front of, you know, at home, but in front of an audience,
that’s an immediate applause line. That’s the equivalent on the left of saying
health care should be a human right.

It’s – on the religious right, it’s been a prime belief for years. Jerry
Falwell had something, I’ll have to just paraphrase, where he imagined Thomas
Jefferson kneeling and writing the Declaration of Independence with the
dialogue being fed to him by the creator. The idea that the founders didn’t
just get our laws right, they got them divinely right, and if you break away
from them, not only are you probably wrong, you’re definitely defying the
vision God had for this country, that when he, you know, when the pilgrims got
up on the city on a hill. Again, this is all stuff they’ve said, but it just
didn’t come to the forefront until the economic crisis, until the bailouts,
until this cascade of problems that are terrifying them under the Obama

GROSS: If you’re joining us, my guest is David Weigel, and he writes for the
Washington Independent, which is an online magazine. He covers the Republican
Party and the re-making of the right.

Now, we were talking about, you know, on the one hand, the emphasis on the
right on, you know, constitutional issues and immigration, health insurance,
Obama as Marxist, socialist, fascist. And on the other side, you have the, you
know, anti-abortion, anti-homosexual talking points. And I think all of this
came together at the Values Voter Summit over the weekend, which was sponsored
by the Family Research Council. This is an annual event. What’s the goal of the

Mr. WEIGEL: The goal initially, when it was launched in 2006, was to – it was
an extension of James Dobson’s project to project the influence of his branch
of the religious right into the political arena. It had been tremendous
successfully, really. 2006, for the first year, he wasn’t very successful
because of various scandals that brought down the Republican Party’s majority.

In 2007, it was kind of a debutante ball for presidential candidates. Everyone
came there, and that was actually a telling moment that year, when – two
telling moments. Mike Huckabee, who three months before the Iowa caucus still
was not quite being taken seriously, easily won the room. Rudy Giuliani, who at
that point was still leading in the polls, kind of whiffed and talked about his
background as an altar boy.

The goal of the years since then, every year, is really just to keep the Family
Research Council, which was, you know, the political arm of James Dobson’s
Focus on the Family, to keep them relevant. It’s not a hard thing to do in the
Republican Party with the Republican base the way it is.

A through-line of this conference is that Republican candidates who wanted to
become president or Republicans who want to become speaker of the House or
majority leader of the Senate - there were a few who had a problem shaping
their rhetoric to the room, I think. But people like Governor Tim Pawlenty of
Minnesota, who is seen as a moderate, blue-state governor, is electable maybe
in the Obama era, where other Republicans are not because of those qualities,
he was comparing the president’s foreign policy to the appeasement of Neville
Chamberlain. He criticized the Obama – criticized the president for speaking to
schoolchildren and said he should apologize to them for the massive debt he was
leaving. He talked about the beginnings of life. It’s basically – the point is
to get Republicans on the record talking to the Christian base of the party,
and the discovery every year is that it’s not very hard to do that. If you fail
to do that, you don’t really have a chance in this party.

GROSS: What’s one or two of the most surprising things that you heard at the
Values Voter Summit over the weekend?

Mr. WEIGEL: I would say the ongoing discovery I’ve made about just how much the
primacy of the founding principles of the Constitution have overcome the
primacy of abortion and gay marriage. Hearing that come from everyone, hearing
those become bigger applause lines than traditional marriage was surprising.
And it wasn’t universal. Carrie Prejean, who is the Miss California who lost
her Miss USA bid because she – a question about gay marriage and said she
didn’t believe in it, she got a huge, rapturous reception. But one, she was an
exception. Most people were more worried about the country as a whole. Two,
when I talked to people after her speech, they were concerned about it in the
context of how international law might be interfering with our own law. And in
the future, if they criticized gay marriage, they might find themselves out of
a job or in trouble. It was something I had trouble wrapping my mind around,
the heroism of somebody running for a beauty pageant crown and losing it is, I
think, not something that a majority of Americans are going to encounter. But I
was surprised at how quickly they glommed onto it as just a big, neon, gleaming
example of the threats they’re all going to face.

That’s also – the break-out sessions, which were probably the most undercover
part of this, were not really surprising, but they were on more social topics.
There was one on immigration, about how you can – restricting immigration was
also necessary if you were a religious voter. There was one on - the new
masculinity was the exact title about how this society is pulling people away
from its monogamous values, from heterosexual values…

GROSS: I’m going to stop you there because you had a very interesting report on
a session, this session, the new masculinity, and I want you to talk about it.
The chief of staff, Michael Schwartz, to Kansas(ph) Senator Tom Coburn, said
something to the audience along these lines, that parents should tell their
children that all pornography is homosexual pornography and that this knowledge
could prevent children from becoming perverted. What was his explanation for
saying that all pornography is homosexual pornography?

Mr. WEIGEL: His explanation, which I would have to say was received in the room
rapturously, as if he’d just knocked a rock over and uncovered something nobody
had ever uncovered before, was that all – anything that – any pornography that
turns your sexual drive inward leads to you turning it inward in other sorts of
ways and becoming onanistic and possibly becoming homosexual. And the message
of this was that he raised boys. When they were 10 years old, no one had as
much contempt for the gay lifestyle as these 10-year-old boys. So how do you
keep them in that frame of mind? You inform them that anything that pollutes
yourself and turns your drive inward is going to flip you around and drive you
away from heterosexuality.

And it was – again, there were not many skeptics in the room. No one walked
out. It was a lot of head-nodding and asking for him to expand on the point.
But in the context of this conference, it was another example of something
everyone was already kind of worried about and maybe they hadn’t thought too
much about. If they had thought about it, in the Elvis-shooting-the-TV style of
just raging and not knowing what to do.

And here was somebody who works for a U.S. senator, a powerful man who’s had
this job for four years now, explaining to them, well, they had the right to be
worried because this is the way that this sinful thing that worries them all
works, and this is how it leads to that other sin that they can’t understand
the proliferation of in their society.

GROSS: I found that just so interesting for two reasons. It’s a most unusual
way of alerting people to the dangers of homosexuality, but also, most young
people, when they discover their own sexual urge, and they try to play with
that a little bit, feel so guilty about it often. And this would just make you
feel so – it’s designed to make you feel guilty not only about homosexuality
and any possible urge that you’d have toward it but any possible self-
pleasuring, shall we say…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …that you could possibly do, and I just wonder what most psychologists
would have to say about that.

Mr. WEIGEL: I’d love to ask one. I don’t think this is a idea he has posited
first, it’s just that somebody with power in the Republican Party posited it
that I find fascinating. And I guess I haven’t heard it summed up in such a
succinct way before. But…

GROSS: Well, he said he was told this by a friend who had turned an old hotel
into a hospice for gay men dying of AIDS. So it’s not his original theory. He
attributed it to a friend.

Mr. WEIGEL: That’s an important part of all of this. And I bring it back to the
economics, I bring it back to abortion: the idea that because what they believe
in is divinely inspired, and because it’s been proven to work before, if you
just let it work, if people just behave the way God wants them to, then not
only will it fail, but you know, you’ll see examples in real life of what
happens when you stray away from it. And that was yet another example. It’s –
this lesson was imparted to him by a friend who saw men fall to this lifestyle,
just as some of the most popular people there had seen women who had had
abortions or seen what happens when women have abortions or just as people were
– you know, had a business and were being victimized by the government’s

There’s a lot of I-once-was-blind-but-now-I-see-ism that was on display at this
and that’s, you know, on display throughout the Republican Party right now.

GROSS: My guest is David Weigel. He covers the Republican Party, and how the
right is changing, for the Web magazine, the Washington Independent. We’ll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is David Weigel. He covers the Republican Party, and how the
right is changing, for the Web magazine, the Washington Independent. Earlier,
he was discussing how the right has been interpreting the Constitution.

Now, you’ve said that this turn toward taking the Constitution as a major issue
and immigration - that isn’t unexpected in a party that’s lost power. Are you
saying that the right is emphasizing constitutional issues, immigration issues,
at least as much as, perhaps more than, the old values issues because it can
broaden the alliance now that the Republican Party has been so fractured?

Mr. WEIGEL: I think definitely. I spent a lot of time in the run-up – not the
tea parties but the 9/12 tea party protest, going to sessions that some of
Washington, D.C.’s long-standing conservative and libertarian groups were
holding for the people showing up to this. And the people showing up, if we can
generalize, were more middle-aged, more faithful, religious than the people who
work at these religious groups.

One I went to was a session with the Ayn Rand Institute, where they were trying
to impart the lessons of selfishness. That didn’t really work, but the part of
it – this same event, that was about the legacy of protest, the
unconstitutionality of Democratic reforms, I saw a lot of head-nodding, a lot
of taking detailed notes, a lot of actually running up to these speakers
afterward to get them to sign their small copies of the Constitution.

There are groups in Washington, and I’m not even saying they’re shadowy,
they’re very out and open with what they’ve been doing, but they have a more
secular business-friendly approach to this, and the area they intersect with
the Skousenism and with Christian conservatism is on the Constitution.

If you watch Glenn Beck’s show, a guest he has a lot is Phil Kerpen, who works
for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. And you know, Phil Kerpen is one
of these guys who is mostly concerned about left-wing groups getting money from
the government or people being, you know, the smoking bans, all the libertarian
hobgoblins and tropes. Beck is somebody who is a disciple of Cleon Skousen, and
they didn’t used to agree, but on all this stuff, they can just come to the
same center and find that the founders were against this, that economically
this doesn’t work. And I see that again and again in every event across D.C.
There’s real concordance between economic conservatives, libertarians and
social conservatives. The occasional frays are not enough to pull them apart
because they just - it’s not worth it if it’s going to break up one of these
tea parties. They view the tea parties as the greatest thing to happen to
social conservatism in their memory – to conservatism, period.

GROSS: So it’s easier for these groups to find alliance in opposition than it
is to find alliance when they’re in power and actually have to make decisions
and formulate an agenda.

Mr. WEIGEL: Very much so. And it’s remarkable, if you watch the left when it’s
out of power. The left was - even, I think, when George Bush took office in
2001, unions didn’t get along quite as well with, and the people who
had voted for Ralph Nader who were coming back to the fold were not that
accepted in the movement - there was still a lot more bickering and a lot more
focus on issues. But I think that’s – this comes down to a difference between
the conservative movement and the broad-speaking liberal movement in America.

The conservative movement is about, first, principles. A social conservative
has an idea of what they want. Let’s stay away from the very far-out guys like
the reconstructionists. If they don’t want to change the Constitution, they
just want – they want to encourage, you know, to have as little regulation so
you can have strong families, maybe they want to ban abortion, things like
that. Libertarians want to have as little regulation as possible.

There’s not a lot – once you’re done pulling back the government, there’s not a
lot else to talk about. Grover Norquist has talked about the leave-us-alone
coalition of gun owners, of libertarians, of taxpayers, and the difference
between that coalition and the liberal coalition is that liberals want lots of

They want the government to act on climate change. They want it to act on labor
regulation. They want it to act on fair taxation. Conservatives of every
stripe, libertarians of every stripe, just want it to get – want government to
turn the keys in the ignition and back up to about 1913.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEIGEL: And they figure everything would take care of itself from there.

GROSS: David Weigel will be back in the second half of the show. He covers the
Republican Party and how the right is changing for the Web magazine the
Washington Independent. I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with David Weigel. He covers
the Republican Party and how the right is changing for the Web magazine The
Washington Independent.

There's been a lot of discussion about whether the recent big events on the
right, the tea party events, the 9/12 march on Washington, whether these are
genuine grassroots movements or whether they are what has been described as
Astroturf, fake grassroots. And since you’ve been at these events, and you’ve
been talking to a lot people at them, leaders and people who've showed up to
participate, what are your impressions, grassroots or Astroturf?

Mr. WEIGEL: It's grassroots but the grass is being trimmed by a very expensive
machine. These people are real. They were not in the streets before the
election. They got into the street after the stimulus. And if you talk to Dick
Armey of FreedomWorks, if you talk to Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity,
talk to Grover Norquist, they’ve been trying to make something like this happen
for years and years and years and couldn’t get the bodies on the ground.

One of the more revealing things that the Family, sorry, the Values Voter
summit was Gary Bauer at a quieter session that wasn’t really open to media,
just talking about how great it was to see conservatives in the street. You
hadn't been able to do that before.

GROSS: So, you talked about how there's like, what you say, big machines mowing
the lawn?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Let's talk about some of the money behind these movements. There's been
a lot written about FreedomWorks, which is one of the major backers,
financially, of the tea party protests and the 9-12 march on Washington. What
is FreedomWorks?

Mr. WEIGEL: FreedomWorks is a libertarian organization that came out of
Citizens for a Sound Economy, a previous libertarian organization. It split a
number of years ago and Americans for Prosperity was one branch of it,
FreedomWorks was the other branch. And it had - Dick Armey, who was the
majority leader of the House until he retired in 2003, just used it to pound
the table on a bunch of libertarian pro-business causes with - I wouldn’t say
there wasn’t a lot of success. Groups like that are good at shifting the public

But think of what happens during the Bush administration on those issues.
Social security reform was not a success. Medicare Part D, which was a big
expansion of the government, was a success. The bailouts, which FreedomWorks
opposed to the hilt, you know, passed. After one hiccup, they ended up passing.
So FreedomWorks was a conservative libertarian group with Republican members,
with big money, but it wasn’t influential until recently when the members of
that group who are, you know, I think freewheeling libertarian radicals applied
their skills to organizing big public events.

GROSS: I think one of the things that has really empowered FreedomWorks now is
that they have an issue to organize around that's been very successful for
them, and that's the fear of the president's health reform plan. So how have
they used that for organizing and why is that their issue?

Mr. WEIGEL: Well, they’ve used the health care plan, I think, in a way that
surprised even them. FreedomWorks and libertarians in general oppose national
health care for the reason that they think that it will be the first stage of a
multistage takeover that ends with America having a Sweden style or France
style health care system. So that's what they’ve been talking about. They’ve
ended up taking the reins of a movement that includes lots of paranoia about
whether health care will kill old people, how it's going to take people's
taxpayer money and make it fund abortions, how illegal immigrants are going to
be able to get it.

FreedomWorks has never been that concerned about illegal immigration but, you
know, it’s riding this, it’s at the head of this caravan now, and if the people
well behind the caravan are having success, they're not stopping them.

GROSS: Now another group that's been very active in this current alliance on
the right is FAIR, which stands for Federation for American Immigration Reform.
And what has their role been in organizing or participating in the tea party
events and the 9/12 march on Washington?

Mr. WEIGEL: Well, FAIR is just a powerful movement in the conservative - or a
powerful organization in the conservative coalition, because fear of illegal
immigration is not something the people in D.C., in the beltway conservative
movement, care that much about, largely speaking. But it is something that
motivates the base out there, and especially in the West, in the South, and
places where there's not a huge influx of illegal immigration. They're still
interested in horror stories of what could happen.

GROSS: Is FAIR one of the reasons why immigration has been so stressed, so
emphasized in the health care debate? I mean why is there this emphasis on a
fear that illegal immigrants will be able to get health care through the new
health reform plan if it's passed? And when it's been made clear that it
doesn’t say that in the bills that are on the table, is it groups like FAIR
that have added that to the debate, that have emphasized that in the debate?

Mr. WEIGEL: Yeah. I think they have helped to shape it. I think this is one of
those issues, though, where economic worries translate to scapegoating. and it
was very direct when we had an immigration bill on the table. In the economic
issue, it’s a little bit more indirect but it’s still happening. Conservative
voters know that the economy is not good. They no longer believe as they did
you know, when the Republicans were running for president in 2008 that it’s
fixable if we just cut taxes.

They know there are real problems, but it's tough to think that you might need
to intervene in the economy to fix those problems. It's tough to think that the
solutions to health care might be government solutions to health care. It's
easier to think that there are people distorting the system and abusing the
system, illegal immigrants in hospitals, and if we clean that up, that is how
we take care of this. I mean FAIR is a group whose position on immigration is
that we need a moratorium followed by restriction of legal immigration. And
obviously, border - on illegal immigration - zero tolerance.

GROSS: Let's look at the remaking of the right and the role that Fox News has
been playing in that. What is the role of Fox News in organizing and helping to
organize the tea party protests and the 9/12 march on Washington?

Mr. WEIGEL: The role of Fox News in organizing these things has been massive
and it's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEIGEL:'s something I'm continually taken aback by it. One through
line I see is that most conservative groups are happy admitting that they are
behind an event or they handed out leaflets, they booked something - Fox News
is very sensitive about being criticized for its advocacy, but it - let's just
take the 9/12 march on Washington. One, it promoted a very strange fringe event
called the Tea Party Express, that was a buss of conservatives going from
California to D.C. culminating with the march. And it embedded a reporter on
this bus for the, you know, these smallish events - reporting on the scene,
giving updates when everyone was going on. They informed their...

GROSS: Embedded a Fox reporter.

Mr. WEIGEL: It was Griff Jenkins, who is kind of color reporter but, you know,
a guy with a national audience. And when they get to the march itself, Jenkins
is back on the scene; he's reporting on it, they have all day coverage, which
is not to be, not unexpected. But there's actually a moment where Jenkins was
doing a hit and showing the crowd at some point in the early afternoon and a
Fox news producer, whenever Jenkins was about to go on would wave up her arms
and insight the crowd to start cheering louder.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEIGEL: And that's something you might see on a talk-show, but Fox has just
taken an out-and-out oppositional approach to the Obama administration. Not
just with the tea parties, but I mean Glenn Beck’s show I don’t think can be
overrated as an influence in building a popular and intellectual opposition to
the administration. More than anything, you can compare it to Keith Olbermann's
show during the Bush administration, it’s not close. I mean Beck, day after day
is getting conservative movement intelligence, asking his readers to send him
stuff and going after members of the Obama administration. It's kind of unheard
of. The advocacy is just unheard of and strange.

GROSS: Why do you think Glenn Beck has become so popular and powerful?

Mr. WEIGEL: I think he's very simple.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. WEIGEL: I think it's simple. The reason for Beck's popularity is that he
tells the audience he's uncovering something. Shawn Hannity, I don’t think is
he has not become much less popular, but he basically bashes liberals and says
that Democrats are gross and Ted Kennedy's - the late Ted Kennedy was
unappealing and stuff you heard on talk-radio for years and years. Beck says
I've uncovered something; me or my investigator have uncovered a video; we’ve
uncovered a secret link; we’ve uncovered a document - and that's fascinating.

It's fascinating from the normal consumer of news’s perspective. It's
fascinating from the conspiracy theorist’s perspective. I mean, no one else is
giving you a chart showing you the 87 interlocking connections of the left-wing
movements and Barack Obama and I think that's exactly it. That's why it’s
become popular.

GROSS: What issues do you think Glenn Beck is having like the biggest impact

Mr. WEIGEL: I think generally he's shifted the window of discussion on
presidential power and the Constitution. He's shifted the window on ACORN.
ACORN's a good example because there were votes early in this year to defund
ACORN, for ACORN - and this is dubiously constitutional - but the organization
should not get any more funding because it had been indicted for voter fraud,
and most Democrats voted against this. Glenn Beck pounded this relentlessly. He
ran these undercover videos from conservative activists and ACORN is now

I mean on the Constitutional issue in general, you’ve got a guy who's getting
the best ratings on Fox, telling people every day about the Tree of Revolution,
that Barack Obama is connected to ACORN, is connected to SEIU. All of this is
rooted in the ideas of Saul Alinsky who wanted to overthrow the government. I
mean, if I could boil it down to political issues, it's ACORN and czars. But I
think the influence has just to been to turn the national discourse from what
it was nine months ago when we were saying we're in real trouble, what can or
should the government do to fix it, to are we on the road to fascism?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEIGEL: And I think he's really introduced that into the national
discussion in a way that's probably not realistic.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is David Weigel and he writes for
the Web magazine The Washington Independent where he covers the Republican
Party and the remaking of the right.

Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more about your

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is David Weigel. He writes for the
Web magazine The Washington Independent where he covers the Republican Party
and the remaking of the right.

Last week, Nancy Pelosi said that she's worried about some of the language
being used because she saw the results of extreme language and angry language
in the 70s when Harvey Milk was killed in San Francisco - when he was murdered.
Do you share those concerns?

Mr. WEIGEL: I know that threats to President Obama are to the tune of 400
percent greater, more numerous, than threats to George Bush. And I also know
that there have been murders of police and of abortion providers since
President Obama took office. There was a murder of a few police officers in
Pittsburgh. There was a murder of George Tiller in Kansas. So, I don’t like to
– look - let's look at the 70s, the Weather Underground blew up some bombs and
there's Democrats are still targeted by that 30 or 40 years later. But the
majority of liberals who were very angry at Richard Nixon didn't blow up any
bombs. Same thing's going to happen on the right.

One thing that I think is, what'll happen on the right is that there will be a
large number of conservative activists of whom some do dangerous, embarrassing,
murderous things that make them all look awful. One thing I think is key here,
though, is that Glenn Beck, a few months ago, warned his audience not to do
anything like this. He, in his very thespian way, was beseeching people not to
get too worried about what the Obama administration was doing and lead
themselves to violence. So one reason you’ll see a few conservatives
criticizing this, because they are afraid of that. Even Glenn Beck is a bit
afraid of that. I think there has been an uptick of it. And I really do think
if it happens, people like Beck realize they will be blamed, they’ll
immediately be blamed for an act of real extreme violence, as Bill O'Reilly
blamed after the George Tiller thing.

So it’s ticked up a little bit. I don’t want to tar all these people who’ve
shown up at tea parties with that, but they have to look at the rhetoric coming
from mainstream conservatives and the - even the rhetoric that says everything
this president’s doing is against America’s identity and our Constitution, and
say where does this lead?

GROSS: One of the slogans of the Obama protest movements, you know, the tea
party movement and the 9/12 march on Washington is, I want my country back. And
Obama is being portrayed as a fascist, a communist, a socialist. Some people
say that that’s because of race, that racism lies underneath that. Again,
you’ve been going to these events, you’ve been talking to leaders and people
who show up to participate. What’s your sense of that? Do you think that there
is a conscious or unconscious racism that’s motivating some of this?

Mr. WEIGEL: Well, one thing I would caution and say is that Howard Dean rose to
nearly taking the Democratic nomination, although not by a lot, by saying, I
want my country back. That was one of his lines. So it’s on one level, it’s a
political trope. In my conversations, I mean, I don’t want – I don’t like
running down a proportion I made up, but it’s a small proportion of people who
out-and-out do not like African-Americans and do not like the idea of an
African-American running their country. If it’s not that explicit, it’s that
they think he is going to take things away from white people and give them to

And that’s an element there. It’s definitely not something you hear from the
people - the one thing you can hear with the Astroturf people, if you want to
call FreedomWorks Astroturf, there’s none of that there. It’s just something
you see on the fringes - in signs. If you press somebody, they’ll talk about
it. How deep it is in there, I mean, this has always been a conservative
complaint about liberalism, post-Great Society, is that liberalism is taking
away from the majority and giving to the minority. So that’s going to be
interlaced throughout this.

GROSS: I think there is some disagreement among (unintelligible) about whether
people on the fringe should be covered or not.

Mr. WEIGEL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And one of the things you’re doing is covering some of the more extreme
elements of the right and trying to see who’s – who’s got the power there, what
are they saying, where are the conspiracy series coming from. By doing that, do
you think that you risk empowering people who are fringy and whose views are
not grounded in truth? Or do you think it’s necessary to do that to alert
people to what’s out there?

Mr. WEIGEL: I have to tell you, when I started The Independent in January and I
said this was going to be my beat, covering conservative movement in exile, I
didn’t think we would have marches of 70,000 people in the streets, some of
them waving signs saying Barack Obama was born in Kenya. I didn’t think - I
wrote about the birth certificate people because I just thought it was strange
and amusing and easy to knock down. I never thought that was going to be
something that 10 members of Congress sign legislation asking for a clarity on.
So I struggled with this because there are liberal groups that have risen up to
just cover every radical thing Rush Limbaugh says.

And I think doing that just takes away air time that could be spent covering
something else, often for liberals. I mean, you see this with - President Obama
will give a speech about health care and all people talk about is Joe Wilson,
let’s all pile on Joe Wilson. But it’s really essential to point out where the
fringe ideas are coming from. If something is escaping from the fringe into the
mainstream, it’s escaping and it’s getting right into the consciousness of
people who consider themselves ordinary Americans who are worried about their

If they are not informed that this idea they heard on Glenn Beck actually comes
from a very strange and wrong and stupid place, or that, say, somebody - I
think Lou Dobbs the other day had - told everybody to go to a Web site that had
a bunch of secessionist arguments on it. If you don’t point that out, then
people just read it. There’s a way to go overboard but it has to be pointed

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much, David Weigel, for talking with us.
Thank you.

Mr. WEIGEL: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: David Weigel covers the Republican Party and how the right is changing
for the Web magazine The Washington Independent.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Steve Lehman, Finding A Computer-Assisted 'Flow'


Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says New York alto saxophonist Steve Lehman has
been soaking up diverse influences for years. He’s studied with hard bop
saxophonist Jackie McLean and Chicago School of Jazz composers Anthony Braxton
and George Lewis. Kevin says Lehman’s music mixes offbeat grooves and offbeat

(Soundbite of music)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: In jazz, like any artform, there are historical moments when
it seems like all the angles have been covered and there’s nothing left to
explore. And then someone comes along with a new idea or a new influence that
points out a fresh direction. In Steve Lehman’s case, the novel influence is
spectral music, pioneered by French composers like one of his mentors, Tristan
Murail. Spectralists come up with new ways of blending or blurring instrumental
colors. They’ll analyze the acoustical properties of, say, an E-flat played on
trombone versus a B-natural struck on the vibes. By combining different
instruments’ overtones in specific ways, they get new timbres, sometimes with
rough interference patterns built in.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman from his octet album “Travail,
Transformation & Flow.” In Lehman’s spectral music, the sound of one instrument
can morph into the sound of another. On his “As Things Change, I Remain the
Same,” horn chords emerge from and then disappear into the metallic sound of
Chris Dingman’s vibraphone.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Steve Lehman starts by mutating instrumental colors in his five horn
octet, but that’s just the beginning. The speed at which certain sounds unfold
helps determine the right tempo. And he likes to distort his basic rhythms.
Lehman will take an odd pattern and then add or drop beats here and there to
throw it out of whack, to put a deliberate glitch in the fabric, and he’ll
layer parts over one another so rhythms can clash, the way overtones might.
That’s Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: One key reason Steve Lehman’s brainiac music works is that it really
moves on the shoulders of rhythm aces Drew Gress on bass and new drum star
Tyshawn Sorey. They have their own idiosyncratic groove, even before vibes and
tuba get involved. Their timing breathes and oozes and swings in some weird

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Steve Lehman loves off-center grooves like that. His album “Travail,
Transformation & Flow” ends with an instrumental version of “Living In the
World Today” by Jizza of the Wu-Tang Clan, where the rhythm section replicates
the slightly skewed beats of looped hip-hop samples. Lehman has made other
records. But this one sounds like the start of a mature phase. He now has
enough ways of developing materials to keep him busy for a good long time.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead teaches at the University of Kansas and he’s the jazz
columnist for You can download podcasts of our show on our Web
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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