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Members of Florida’s Southeast Broward [County] Republican Club take to the firing range for their weekly meeting, where they fire handguns, AK-47s, and AR-15s at targets. The purpose of having the meeting at a gun club, says chapter president Ed Napolitano, is to have fun, educate non-shooting members, and to send a political message: “Why are we here? Because we’re Republicans and we appreciate the fact that we have the right to bear arms,” he says. “Without the Second Amendment, I don’t think the other amendments would hold up. I think they would just be suggestions that the government would decide to do whatever they want.” However, the choice of targets causes some outrage. Most of the members shoot at traditional targets—human silhouettes—but some of the shooters use color posters depicting Arab men in traditional headdress holding rocket-propelled grenades, and one, Robert Lowry, shoots at a target with the letters “DWS” written next to the target’s head. Lowry is the Republican candidate for the district’s US House seat, running against incumbent Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), whose initials are DWS. Lowry says he didn’t write the initials on the target, but was aware of them before he began shooting. At first, he attempts to dismiss it as a “joke,” but after answering some questions on the target, he says it “was a mistake” to use a target labeled with the initials of his opponent. Wasserman Schultz says of Lowry’s action: “I find this type of action serious and disturbing. Tonight I am going to have to talk to my young children about why someone is pretending to shoot their mother. Trivializing violent behavior is the kind of extreme view that has no place in American politics.” Lowry issues a statement that reads: “Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a fine lady and we wish her and her family well. It is her continued support for harmful policies affecting seniors and her failure to act for the general benefit of US Congressional District 20 is what we take issue with.” Jennifer Crider of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says: “It’s absolutely outrageous. He needs to rethink his sense of humor. It wasn’t about issues, it wasn’t about anything of substance, it was a personal attack that wasn’t called for.” Napolitano defends the club’s use of targets designed to appear as Arab terrorists, saying: “That’s our right. If we want to shoot at targets that look like that, we’re going to go ahead and do that.” (Man 10/8/2009; Sedensky 10/9/2009; Reinhard 10/11/2009)
Presidential contender Mitt Romney (R-MA) delivers a speech at the Iowa State Fair, just before a Republican presidential debate the same evening and an upcoming Iowa straw poll, and after the speech, he tells the crowd that “corporations are people.” Romney has some difficulty with members of the audience during the question-and-answer session. The first questioner asks if Romney, as president, would be willing to raise the cap on payroll taxes so that rich people would have to pay more into the system. Romney, who is worth well over $200 million, answers that such a move would be the same as “attacking people because of their success,” and adds, “You know, there was a time in this country when we didn’t celebrate attacking people based on their success and when we didn’t go after people because they were successful.” He then attacks President Obama’s fiscal policies (later saying that he believes Obama may “take… his political inspiration from the social Democrats of Europe”), and claims that “half” of Americans “pay no taxes at all.” He also claims that if the country intends to pay the same Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits to citizens in the future as it pays today, taxes for those programs would have to be raised from 15 percent of income to 44 percent. A second questioner asks Romney what he intends to do to strengthen Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare without cutting benefits. He shouts down the questioner, and answers another crowd member who says, “You came here to listen to the people,” by saying, “No, no, no, no, I came here to speak, and you’ll get to answer your question.” Some in the crowd boo him. He then says about Social Security and Medicare: “I’m not going to raise taxes. That’s my answer.” As he delivers his answer, some in the crowd begin chanting: “Wall Street greed! Wall Street greed!” He tells the crowd that in order to “save” Social Security, “completely eliminating the cap without increasing benefits actually creates a long-term surplus, and eliminating the cap while increasing benefits comes close.” During the exchange, Romney supporters, who make up the majority of the crowd, cheer the candidate on. Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress writes that Romney “frequently responded belligerently to their anger.” Romney spurs further ire when he says that the US “should consider a higher retirement age” for Social Security and Medicare in order to preserve tax breaks for corporations. He says he does not support preserving Social Security by raising taxes on people, and some in the crowd shout: “Corporations! Corporations!” Romney then responds, “Corporations are people, my friend.” Some in the crowd shout back, “No they’re not!” and Romney replies: “Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?” Someone shouts, “It goes into your pocket!” and Romney retorts: “Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets. Human beings, my friend.” Millhiser writes of the exchange: “Romney’s antagonists are right that corporate money flows right into Romney’s pockets. Indeed, Romney has taken more money from corporate and other lobbyists than all the other GOP candidates put together, and this will likely only be the beginning for Romney if he becomes the GOP nominee.” Millhiser writes that it is likely Romney is referring to the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) in characterizing “corporations [as] people.” (Rucker 8/11/2011; Garofalo 8/11/2011; Millhiser 8/11/2011)
'Debate Prep' - The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker calls the “testy” interactions between Romney and the audience “the best debate prep session he could have hoped for.” Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) is less impressed, saying in a statement that Romney’s characterization of corporations as people is a “shocking admission.” She adds, “Mitt Romney’s comment today that ‘corporations are people’ is one more indication that Romney and the Republicans on the campaign trail and in Washington have misplaced priorities.” (Rucker 8/11/2011)
Romney Campaign Defends Characterization - Later in the day, Romney spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom defends the “corporations are people” statement on Twitter, posting: “Do folks think corporations are buildings? They’re people who incorporate to conduct business. They create jobs and hire more people.” Romney’s Republican opponent Jon Huntsman (R-UT) counters through spokesperson Tim Miller, again on Twitter; Miller posts, “Was American Pad & Paper Company a person/friend?” The reference is to the firm American Pad and Paper (AMPAD), which was a thriving company before Romney’s firm Bain Capital acquired it, closed two of its US plants, laid off 385 workers, and drove the firm into bankruptcy. (Sarlin 8/11/2011)
'Gift' to Opponents - National Public Radio’s Frank James calls the statement “a gift” to Romney’s political opponents, and says it may well follow him all the way into the November presidential elections if Romney wins the Republican nomination. “He just made their goal of pushing the narrative that he is a tool of corporate America much easier by providing them with that handy piece of video,” James writes. He also notes that Twitter is almost immediately inundated with posts mocking the comment. James’s NPR colleague Liz Halloran, who is in the crowd, later writes of the comment, “Not his best moment.” She praises Romney for being willing to engage with his critics during the exchange. (James 8/11/2011)
Conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh issues an apology for his three-day verbal assault on Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke. Fluke testified in opposition to a House amendment that would have allowed health care providers to deny contraceptive coverage and other health care necessities if they had religious or moral objections (see March 1, 2012) and was vilified by Limbaugh (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012). Limbaugh, echoing claims from his anti-Fluke broadcasts, claims he was merely joking in calling Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” alleging that she wanted the government to pay for her having promiscuous sex, and demanding that she post online videos of the sex he claimed he would be paying for. On his blog, Limbaugh writes: “For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke. I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a presidential level (see March 2, 2012). My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.” (Rush Limbaugh 3/3/2012) Premiere Radio Networks, the subsidiary of Clear Channel Entertainment that distributes Limbaugh’s show, quickly emails the apology to reporters, but initially declines to comment. Limbaugh’s chief of staff Kit Carson refuses to comment as well. On March 4, the network will email a statement by a spokesperson that reads: “The contraception debate is one that sparks strong emotion and opinions on both sides of the issue. We respect the right of Mr. Limbaugh, as well as the rights of those who disagree with him, to express those opinions.” The company refuses to divulge the names of the largest advertisers on Limbaugh’s show, nor how much revenue Premiere is losing by the advertiser defections. A Twitter account called “Stop Rush” posts: “I think this attempt at damage control labeled as an apology actually makes things worse. You know what Rush’s so-called apology means? Your efforts at delivering real accountability are working!” MSNBC talk show host Lawrence O’Donnell posts on Twitter, “Lawyers wrote that apology.” (Stelter 3/3/2012; Associated Press 3/4/2012) Think Progress reporter Alex Seitz-Wald notes that Limbaugh conflates contraception with governmental purchases of sneakers, and continues to imply that Fluke and other women advocate for contraception coverage solely for their own personal sexual activities. Seitz-Wald recalls that Fluke testified to Congress on behalf of a friend who needed birth control pills to manage polycystic ovarian syndrome. (Seitz-Wald 3/3/2012) Liberal blogger Kaili Jo Gray writes in response: “Shorter Rush: ‘I’m sorry if any sluts were offended by being called sluts, but if they’d stop being sluts, I wouldn’t have to call them sluts.’ Obviously, the campaign to demand that Rush’s sponsors pull their advertising from his show is working” (see March 2, 2012 and After). (Kaili Jo Gray 3/3/2012) Others agree. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), the Democratic National Committee chair, says, “I know he apologized, but forgive me, I doubt his sincerity, given that he lost at least six advertisers.” And Eric Boehlert of the progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters says he doubts the apology will “stop the pressure that’s being applied to his advertisers.” In an email, Boehlert says, “His comments were so egregious, naturally advertisers will have doubts about being associated with Limbaugh’s brand of hate.” (Stelter 3/5/2012) It is possible that Limbaugh issues the apology in hopes of fending off a lawsuit by Fluke (see March 2, 2012) and/or to stop advertisers from removing themselves as sponsors of his show. Regardless, the exodus will intensify, and will spread to advertisers asking that their ads be removed from Limbaugh’s political talk-show colleagues as well as from his own show (see March 9, 2012).
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