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Richard Viguerie is one of the founders of the modern conservative movement. He's not the player he once was but he still carries clout and I think actually makes a reasonable point about the current crisis of leadership in the GOP. Congressional Republicans haven't really seized the leadership mantle so it's been left to the likes of Steele and Rush. He just released this statement:

Broadcasters and commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage are seen as the de facto leaders of the Republican Party for a simple reason, Richard A. Viguerie said today: "It's because no one else is acting like a Republican leader."

"The 'Rushification' of the GOP is the natural and inevitable result of the fact that those who are supposed to provide leadership - Republican elected officials and party officers - are doing little to bring the party back," said Viguerie, chairman of

"Nature abhors a vacuum, and there is no vacuum in nature as empty as the leadership of the Republican Party today."

Said Viguerie: "The GOP absolutely refuses to replace the Congressional leaders who helped get the party and the country into this mess. There are many Republican governors campaigning for the Obama 'stimulus' plan that is wrecking the economy and will push America deeper into socialism. Governor Jindal's speech was technocratic, without passion and toothless, and Michael Steele's foolish attack on Rush Limbaugh will, I'm sure, cost the party many millions in contributions."

The anger of grassroots conservatives continues unabated at the weak-kneed, spineless, earmark -loving Republicans.

In contrast to GOP officials, "Limbaugh and Hannity and most all of their conservative colleagues have something to say. They actually believe in something. They have the confidence of their convictions. They don't cower in fear of the President's popularity. They know that his popularity is built on the sand of false promises and false premises. Like Ronald Reagan facing the Soviet Union, they know how this story ends."

Even Jim Cramer of CNBC, who isn't a conservative, is providing more honest and outspoken leadership than the 'loyal opposition' about how Obama's policies are destroying the life savings of Americans.

"Americans are already beginning to realize that the new president is every bit as reckless and extreme as conservatives said he was," Viguerie said. "But the Republican Party can't get any traction, because the party leadership is as confused and clueless as the Obama administration."

Had Jindal not blown his speech or in Palin had been more out there during the last week--she chose to skip the National Governors Association meeting and the Conservative Political Action Conference--then she might have more of the mantle now. As it is, nature does abhor a vacuum.

We at TPMDC and the TPM mother ship are pretty perplexed about the Treasury Department's continued insistence on maintaining anonymity for the mysterious "counterparties" whose swaps and contracts with AIG are getting bolstered by the taxpayers.

And we're not alone: Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Warner (D-VA) urged the disclosure of AIG's counterparties yesterday. Today, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) added her voice to the chorus during an exchange with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in the Finance Committee:

CANTWELL: Why hasn't Treasury come forward and said who are the affected counterparties, the people that are most affected by the collapse, so that we know why we are doing this?

And Geithner's response was less than illuminating:

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I have a certain affection for all fellow comedians, having done some stand-up comedy myself. So I had sympathy for Evan Sayet, a conservative comedian, who spoke at the Heritage Foundation earlier today. His shtick is not what we might call nuanced. Sayet's talk was entitled, "Hating What's Right: How the Modern Liberal 'Thinks' " (He has a book by the same title, he tells me, coming out later this year.) Sayet seems like a nice enough fellow--we have some friends in common-- and it's hard enough to do comedy even with a two-drink minimum let alone at the Lehrman Auditorium of the nation's preeminent conservative think tank.

A one time writer for the Arsenio Hall Show, Sayet describes himself as a "brain-dead liberal" before 9/11. The attacks led to an epiphany, he says. And now he's a full-throated conservative who charges that "modern liberalism" believes in "evil over good, wrong over right." His comedy conflates Jeremiah Wright, the dyspeptic professor Ward Churchill, who characterized 9/11 victims as "little Eichmans" along with mainstream liberals like the Illinois Senator Dick Durbin who gets ribbed, deservedly so I think, for comparing American detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay with the Nazis. Durbin, himself, apologized for the remarks--a point which Sayet didn't note. At other times, he took shots at Brian Williams, Katie Couric, Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd while I was there but only to sneer at them.

Humor is most funny when it's deeply truthful so bastardizing liberalism into a grotesque parody of itself is neither truthful or funny, to me anyway, although the conservative crowd at Heritage loved it. To be fair, Sayet allowed a few asides about liberals "who don't hate America" and are merely misguided about social programs. But in general his comedy lumps everyone on the left together into an absurdist portrait.

Here's Sayet on liberalism and anti-semitism:

Here he is on being a conservative comedian in Hollywood.

Michael Steele had an amazing interview with Matt Lauer this morning. Steele turned out to be totally unable to say he disagreed with Rush Limbaugh on wanting President Obama to fail:

Steele said his job is to balance the various opinions on whether people want the president o fail -- and conceded he hasn't been doing a good job so far as chairman:

Lauer: Rush Limbaugh says it very bluntly: "I want him to fail," referring to Barack Obama. Do you agree with that?

Steele: I -- look, my job is to build my party after-- after a tough two election cycles. My job is to try to craft a message for our party. There are a lot of opinions out there. Some come from people who are notable, some from people who are not so notable. And my job is try to balance that. I wasn't that effective at it this week, but you know I've been 30 days in the job, and we'll -- you know, we'll move forward.

Lauer kept asking the question -- and Steele persisted to not answer it, saying his own opinion doesn't matter:

Lauer: Do you agree with Rush Limbaugh when he says it's common sense that as a conservative, he wants the policies of Barack Obama to fail?

Steele: Well, my personal opinion doesn't matter in this. My personal -- my job as the RNC chairman is to take into account all the various views out there within our party, and try to put together a strategy and a team that's gonna help us win elections.

So Steele appears to acknowledge that the opinion exists within his party that conservatives should want President Obama's policies to fail -- and it's his job to take views like these into account, among others, in forming the party's strategy.

The Senate Judiciary committee is currently holding hearings on that proposal from committee chair Pat Leahy to set up a Truth Commission to look into the Bush administration's war on terror.

We'll have more to say on this whole subject soon, but for now it's worth noting that, as you'd expect, Bush allies are fighting hard to stymie Leahy's idea.

Just now, the committee heard from David Rivkin, a lawyer who served in the Justice Department and the White House under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

Explaining why he opposed Leahy's proposal, Rivkin declared:

Yes, mistakes were made. Yes, some bad things happened. But compared with the historical baseline of past wars, the conduct of the United States in the past eight years ... has been exemplary.

We're sure that victims of torture under the Bush administration would appreciate Rivkin's willingness to supply that historical context.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) certainly didn't. He told Rivkin:
I would suggest, Mr. Rivkin, that until you know, and we all know, what was done under the Bush administration, you not be so quick to throw other generations of Americans under the bus, and assume that they did worse.

Late Update: Here's the video:

Harry Reid's office is now indicating its displeasure and opposition to Norm Coleman's new attempt to potentially throw out the whole election result in Minnesota.

Said Reid spokesman Jim Manley, in an e-mail to TPM: "Just because Mr. Coleman is not happy with the results of the election/recount doesn't mean he gets to schedule another one."

It looks like the New York Times liked our Theresa Hatt story.

That was the one about how a Bank of America estates rep tried to guilt-trip the son of a deceased card-holder into paying his mother's credit-card balance, though he was under no obligation to do so. We also spoke to a former B of A collections rep, who told us such techniques were encouraged.

And today the Times reports on a debt-collection firm that contracts with credit-card companies to go after the relatives of people who died with outstanding debts.

The paper makes clear that in most cases -- like the one we highlighted -- the relatives have no legal obligation to pay up. Not that that's made clear, of course:

Scott Weltman of Weltman, Weinberg & Reis, a Cleveland law firm that performs deceased collections, says that if family members ask, "we definitely tell them" they have no legal obligation to pay. "But is it disclosed upfront -- 'Mr. Smith, you definitely don't owe the money'? It's not that blunt."
Collection agents at the firm, DCM, use some sophisticated techniques.
New hires at DCM train for three weeks in what the company calls "empathic active listening," which mixes the comforting air of a funeral director with the nonjudgmental tones of a friend. The new employees learn to use such anger-deflecting phrases as "If I hear you correctly, you'd like..."

"You get to be the person who cares," the training manager, Autumn Boomgaarden, told a class of four new hires.

Often, they succeed:
Brenda Edwards, one of DCM's top collectors, spoke with a woman in New Jersey about her mother's $544.96 credit card bill.

"She had no will, no finances, nothing," the daughter said. "Nothing went to probate." The $200 in the checking account was used for funeral expenses. But the woman also said the family "filed a form with the county," indicating that perhaps there was a legal estate after all.

"Is anyone in the family in a position to pay this?" Ms. Edwards asked, adding: "I'm not telling you it needs to be paid at all."

The woman reached a decision. "I will talk to my brothers and sisters and we will pay this," she said.

DCM's chief executive makes clear that right now, collecting even on small debts is crucial for credit card behemoths. "The financial services industry is under a tremendous amount of pressure, and every dollar we collect improves their profitability," he tells the Times.

But given the parlous state of the industry, those collectors had better be working overtime.

There seems something just a little fishy about the new Rasmussen poll deflating the idea that Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party, with only 11% of Republicans agreeing to the premise and 81% disagreeing.

On the other hand, the phrasing of this question seems like it's designed to elicit a No response, especially from Republicans: "Agree or Disagree: 'Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party -- he says jump and they say how high.'"

Not surprisingly, GOP respondents don't want to admit they are the yes-man patsies of a radio loudmouth.

Uh-oh -- another Democratic senator vowed today to oppose the $410 billion spending bill that is slated to keep the government funded until October.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), appearing at a press conference on the line-item veto alongside Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), joined Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) in urging President Obama to veto the spending measure:

I have typically not voted for omnibus bills because they always end up like this. And you know the president should veto it. And if it sent over there, the president should veto it. He should say, look, I asked for a stimulus bill that had no earmarks in it, and it did not based on the definition we're using in this bill.

As he notes, Feingold's at least being consistent here. But let's take a quick whip count, to see whether Democrats can actually pass this puppy ...

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A new Fairleigh Dickinson poll in New Jersey finds that Gov. Jon Corzine (D) is in serious danger of defeat at the hands of former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie in the election this coming November.

The numbers: Christie 41%, Corzine 32%. New Jersey is a heavily Democratic state, but Corzine has been hurt by the state's budget situation. And Christie retains popularity from his years as a U.S. Attorney, when he successfully prosecuted politicians from both parties. On the other hand, he has had his share of controversies involving the Bush Administration, and Corzine is sure to use those against him.

My own two cents, as a New Jerseyan: As a rule, we hate our politicians. But Christie can't bask in the glory of the polls right now, because it's also very common for incumbent Democrats to be way below 50%, and still win at the end of the day in this blue state.

New Jersey has shown a classic pattern of having high undecideds and the Republican ahead, only to see the undecided voters eventually come home and (reluctantly) vote for the Democrat. This is exactly what happened in the the 2006 Senate race, for example. But we'll see how this plays out, especially when the Dems start attacking Christie as a Bush-crony.