The Rachel Maddow Show: SEIU The Next Target For The Right Wing Smear Machine

Rachel Maddow is joined by Peter Dreier to discuss the right wing smear machine's next targets. As Dreier points out, the Democrats had better start s
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Rachel Maddow is joined by Peter Dreier to discuss the right wing smear machine's next targets. As Dreier points out, the Democrats had better start standing up for allies in the progressive community if they don't want those allies along with the Democratic Party destroyed.

MADDOW: Today, the forces that have turned community activist group ACORN into a political pinata set their sights on a White House official. His name is Patrick Gaspard, the political affairs director at the White House. According to an article published in the conservative magazine “The American Spectator,” Mr. Gaspard is a, quote, “longtime ACORN operative.”

ACORN might as well be speaking to President Obama through an earpiece as he goes about his daily business ruining the country. Once an allegation like that is in a conservative magazine, you know what happens next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS: The White House political director.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: Yes.

DOOCY: . is a fellow by the name of Patrick Gaspard, and he apparently has been in bed with ACORN. So, does ACORN have somebody in the White House.

BECK: You know what‘s really.

DOOCY: . in one way or another?

BECK: You know what‘s really weird is—and the answer to that is yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Actually, the answer to that is no. “The American Spectator‘s” newly discovered evidence that Mr. Gaspard was a longtime ACORN operative was actually a 4-month-old blog post from ACORN‘s founder which incorrectly stated that Mr. Gaspard had been an ACORN employee.

Today, that ACORN founder corrected his original post writing, quote, “Patrick was never on the staff of ACORN,” and that does appear to be the case, he was not an ACORN employee. But why let the facts get in the way of a good smear, right?

Despite this embarrassing misfire, opponents of ACORN and the conservative media and the Republican Party are so confident in the success of their war against ACORN that they‘re already planning who they‘re going after next.

Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa, who stood on the House floor last week and falsely accused President Obama of working for ACORN, telegraphed the next witch hunt that we have to look forward to—in an interview with “The Washington Independent‘s” Dave Weigel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE WEIGEL, WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT: What is the next natural target to defund the left? If this ACORN thing is successful, it looks like it is.

REP. STEVE KING ®, IOWA: Well, ACORN and all their affiliates, SEIU is another one. Their connection there is so tight. They‘re part of the operational arm, and they‘re part of the funding. So, if those two can be pulled down and out of this society, that means that a lot of these people will reform them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: If those two can be pulled down and out of this society.

The other organization that Mr. King mentioned there besides ACORN is SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, one of the nation‘s largest unions.

Congressman King‘s admission that Republicans buoyed by the success of their anti-ACORN crusade are going to go after SEIU next, it wasn‘t just an empty threat. Yesterday, three other House Republicans held a press conference urging the U.S. Census Bureau to sever any of its ties to SEIU.

What‘s the connection between SEIU and ACORN? Why for the right does targeting one lead to targeting the other? Well, it‘s true that SEIU and ACORN have worked together in the past. Most notably, they worked together on what are called living wage ordinances. You heard of the minimum wage, right, that‘s when the law says all corporations have to pay employees at least a certain amount of money per hour.

A living wage is a related idea, but it factors in a wider range of cost-of-living standards for different parts of the country. Living wage advocates say the federal minimum wage isn‘t enough to live on everywhere in the country. And so, therefore, some local standards for a minimum rate of pay should actually be higher than they are for the country as a whole.

ACORN and SEIU have led successful campaigns to pass living wage ordinances in places like St. Louis and Hartford and Chicago and Oakland, California. In those places and in more than 100 other cities and counties in the U.S., local laws now say that any private company that wants a government contract has to agree to pay its workers the living wage standard, not just the minimum wage standard.

You don‘t want to meet the living wage standard? Fine, but you just then don‘t qualify for government contracts. That‘s how these things work. And many have argued that the success of living wage ordinances and the popularity of living wage ordinances laid the groundwork for President Bush, of all people, to have to sign a law raising the national minimum wage, a law that was passed by the Democratic Congress back in 2007.

Now, both SEIU and ACORN - they find themselves under attack, both from Republicans, as we documented on last night‘s show, painted a bull‘s-eye on ACORN as soon as ACORN started registering large numbers of likely Democratic voters and from corporate interests who aren‘t crazy about things like minimum wage hikes, corporate interest that‘s gin up suspicions of groups they don‘t like by funding PR efforts to destroy those groups, PR efforts run by guys like Rick Berman, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist who we talked about on this show before.

Mr. Berman runs the fake grassroots anti-ACORN Web site, “RottenACORN.com.” He also runs the fake grassroots anti-labor Web site “UnionFacts.com,” which has an entire section specifically dedicated to sliming, you guessed it, SEIU.

The successful campaigns that groups like ACORN and SEIU have waged have raised wages and, therefore, the quality of life for millions of low-income Americans across the country. And as a result ACORN and SEIU have become the enemy of corporations that are willing to pay beltway slime merchants almost anything if it might mean avoiding paying higher wages to their own employees.

The easiest way to destroy the whole movement to raise the wages and the standard of living for poor Americans is, of course, to destroy the best advocates of that cause, to destroy the groups that organize and campaign for living wages and a raised minimum wage.

So, ACORN - we‘ve already seen what those attacks look like. SEIU, you‘re next. Then who‘s next after that? And are Democrats and liberals going to stand up for these guys, or are they just going to let them defend themselves and see how it goes?

Joining us now is Peter Dreier. He‘s the professor of politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He‘s also the co-author of a new study on media coverage of ACORN. Professor Dreier, it‘s very nice to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

PETER DREIER, PROFESSOR OF POLITICS, OCCIDENTAL COLLEGE: Good to be here.

MADDOW: Your study about ACORN details the extent to which the media got basic facts about ACORN wrong. So I have to ask your reaction to this breathless, erroneous report in “The American Spectator” that President Obama‘s political director was an ACORN operative.

DREIER: Well, you know, the attack on ACORN by the Republican Party, by Glenn Beck, by Rush Limbaugh, by the “Wall Street Journal” - it‘s all an attempt to divert attention away from the fact that the Republicans and conservatives have nothing to offer working families in this country.

They‘ve become the party of no - no jobs, no health care, no help for homeowners. And now, it‘s become the party of no fact checking, because they‘ve basically misrepresented what they‘re looking at when they‘re trying to attack ACORN, SEIU, President Obama and the rest of the liberal community, the progressive community, that they‘re trying to dismantle.

MADDOW: Are you surprised that SEIU seems to be the next target on their list?

DREIER: You know, who is SEIU? SEIU is janitors, security guards, nurses, hospital workers. These are ordinary, working people who formed a union in order to get better healthcare benefits and better pay and better working conditions.

And SEIU is the largest union in the country that‘s been on the frontlines of the fight for healthcare reform, for raising the minimum wage, the kinds of things you were talking about before.

So I‘m not surprised that Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and the Republican Party and the “Wall Street Journal” and Lou Dobbs and “The American Spectator” and the Republicans in Congress are going after SEIU because SEIU is part of a broader movement, a movement of conscience, a movement for social justice of which ACORN is a part and of which other organizations are a part, that we can expect the extreme right to go after, too.

Next will probably be the Sierra Club, then Planned Parenthood, then the National Council of Churches. It‘s an endless list of people of conscience that right-wing Republicans and their allies in the business community and the conservative media want to destroy.

And that‘s what this attack on ACORN and SEIU is about. It‘s not about public policy. It‘s not about misuse of federal funds. It‘s about destroying the power of the ordinary people to have a voice in their society.

MADDOW: Well, that said, though, Democrats are not taking this on as their fight. Last night on this show, we hosted David Iglesias, who was apparently fired as a U.S. attorney because he wouldn‘t bring what he thought were trumped-up charges against ACORN before the ‘06 election.

And they were charges that he thought were an effort to stop ACORN‘s effective voter registration efforts. Couldn‘t be more clearly partisan than that. And I feel that Republicans know their attack on ACORN is a partisan war but Democrats don‘t see it that way.

Do you agree the Democrats haven‘t really come to their aid and don‘t seem to be planning to?

DREIER: If the Republicans are successful in destroying the progressive community, there will be nobody left to vote for the Democrats and to support the Democrats when they run for election, particularly the progressive Democrats.

So the Democratic Party has to stand up for, not only ACORN, but for the other targets of the extreme right. And so far, it‘s been a disappointment. Some of the leading Democrats in the House, in the Senate have been running for cover.

And they‘ve got to stand up and support their allies because when it‘s time to support them, they‘re going to look - turn around and SEIU might be gone and ACORN might be gone and other organizations that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party supporting raising the minimum wage, providing health care for everyone.

So the Democrats have to - at least those Democrats that have been in the forefront of these fights. They have to stand up for their allies, because if they don‘t, then the progressive community, the liberal progressive community will be destroyed and the Democrats won‘t exist anymore ...

MADDOW: Professor Dreier -

DREIER: ... including the president of the United States.

MADDOW: I guarantee you that your answer to that question that I just asked you is going to be played in front of conservative audiences to rile up their activist base over the course of the next year. And the question is whether or not progressives will do the same in order to rile them up against it.

Peter Dreier, professor of politics at Occidental College, co-author of the recent study “Manipulating the Public Agenda: Why ACORN was in the News and What the News Got Wrong.” Thank you for your time tonight, sir, and your insight. I think you just made yourself famous.

DREIER: Thank you, Rachel. We‘ll see.

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