Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Blackwell's Madrasa

The writer Jeff Horwitz went to school to learn how to make campuses havens for wingnuts and then wrote an article about it for the Salon. What's interesting about the school he chose is that it's the same one Jeff Gannon went to in order to learn how to get a White House press pass without having any journalistic training or experience.

The school, called the Leadership Institute, is run by Morton Blackwell, better known as the wingnut who made those Purple Heart Band-Aids that conservatives then used to mock John Kerry. Blackwell is not a kind and gentle soul, and his latest project is to make sure young Americans leave college more conservative than they enter it.

And what does Blackwell's school teach the young activists? Here is an example:

It's nothing illegal -- no ballot stuffing necessary, even at the most liberal colleges. First you find a nonpartisan campus group to sponsor the election, so you can't be accused of cheating. Next, volunteer to organize the thing. College students are lazy, and they'll probably let you. Always keep in mind that a rigged mock election is all about location, location, location.

"Can anyone tell me," asks Gourley, a veteran mock electioneer, "why you don't want the polling place in the cafeteria?"

Stephen, a shy antiabortion activist sitting toward the rear of the class, raises his hand: "Because you want to suppress the vote?"

"Stephen has the right answer!" Gourley exclaims, tossing Stephen his prize, a copy of Robert Bork's "Slouching Toward Gomorrah."

The students, strait-laced kids from good colleges, seem unconvinced. The lesson -- that with sufficient organization, the act of voting becomes less a basic right than a tactical maneuver -- doesn't sit easy with some students at first. Gourley, a charismatic senior from South Dakota and the treasurer of the College Republican National Committee, assures them: "This is not anti-democracy. This is not shady. Just put [the polling place] somewhere where you might have to put a little bit of effort into voting." The rest, Gourley explains, is just a matter of turnout.

When the state or national candidate you're backing wins by a suitably large margin, as he or she surely will, have the nonpartisan group that sponsored the election sign off on your prewritten celebratory press release and send it statewide. Reporters will almost certainly ignore it, but after a dozen similar victories, they'll start dashing off articles about the youth phenomenon behind your candidate's campaign -- or better yet, just start plagiarizing your press releases.

Blackwell also gives the students some deeper advice:

"Everyone knows that for certain breeds of dogs it is customary to cut their tails short when they are a few weeks old," begins Blackwell's lecture to us on the importance of releasing negative information on your opponent incrementally. "Every time you clip the puppy's tail it hurts. It hurts. You might traumatize the puppy for life."

"The moral is that if it's your tail that's being clipped, you want it clipped once," concludes Blackwell. "But if you get a chance to clip your opponent's tail, clip that puppy as often as you can."

Thus, the campus is taken back into wingnuttia, book by book, computer by computer, building by building, right?

Well, what really matters in all this is money. The conservative organizations are top-down and shower the students they find with enormous resources. The liberal/progressive organizations are bottom-up and give the students very little help. If this will not change campuses may indeed be added to the realm of wingnuttia. Are you reading, Democratic party?