Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's political action committee, known as FWD.us, had billed itself as an organization aimed purely at getting immigration reform passed. However, after a series of ads have come out bashing the president and the Affordable Care Act, and pushing the agenda of Big Oil, the group has come under heavy fire from liberal groups who are responding with a boycott of Facebook's ad services. Many are left asking about Zuckerberg's true intentions, but while his actions may seem counterintuitive, they're actually the smartest and latest maneuver in the political game.
Paralyzed by the most extreme partisan politics this generation has seen, the gears of Washington have succumbed to gridlock, and the American people to cynicism. Earlier this year, the proposed universal background checks amendment, which boasted overwhelming popular support on both sides of the aisle, was killed by filibuster. In effect, even though well over 75% of the American population supported expanded background checks, Washington wasn't even able to muster 60 votes to do something nearly everyone could agree on.
Even the budget debates — a favorite of Republicans — have stalled entirely. Despite the fact that the Senate's failure pass a budget has been a Republican talking point for the last four years, Republicans now stand in the way of sending senators to conference with the House to reconcile their differing budgets. On Monday, Tea Party darling Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stipulated that he would only allow conference if the majority party agreed to not raise taxes. It was without irony that Cruz made his final objection, obstructing not just what had been a Republican policy goal, but also the duty of the elected Congress. Unfortunately, the call was not limited to the extremists, as Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made the same objection.
As cynical Americans will tell you and as the Senate seems to demonstrate, politicians respond best not to popular opinion or appeals to democratic obligations. Instead, as demonstrated by political scholars Benjamin Page (Northwestern University), Larry Bartels (Princeton), and Jason Seawright (Northwestern University), money fuels our political machine.
Enter Zuckerberg and FWD.us, a PAC begun by the elite of America's knowledge economy. Backed by others such as Bill Gates, the PAC has a stated goal of pushing immigration and education reform. FWD.us describes itself as non-partisan, and true to form, divvies its funding between two separate PACs: the progressive-leaning Council for American Job Growth, and the conservative-leaning Americans for a Conservative Direction. Together, the two arms constitute a single body, aiming to push representatives on both sides of the aisle to produce a desired outcome.
So far, the organization has released just three ads, but each has drawn ire from left-leaning groups. One ad, run by the progressive arm of FWD.us, seeks to bolster Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) by touting his conservative principles and interest in opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, something which progressive groups have vehemently opposed. Another ad, pushed by conservative leaning Americans for a Conservative direction, seeks to bolster Senator Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) credentials as a conservative in standing up to Barack Obama and his agenda.
Finally, the most telling and masterfully produced ad features GOP rising star Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and touts his immigration reforms as the "toughest enforcement measures in the history of the United States, potentially in the world." This ad is laced with conservative buzzwords such as "tough," "border security," and "no giveaways for law breakers." The ad is so thorough in its appeal that it turns the common slander of "amnesty" and tosses it back onto the people who oppose the legislation, arguing that the opposition is in fact pushing "de facto amnesty" and that Rubio's reforms offer the best solution.
With the PAC taking such blatantly conservative stances, it's no surprise that the reaction from the left has been one of hostility. When a supposedly nonpartisan group which is supposed to be geared toward immigration and education reform starts openly attacking liberal policies, it's fair to question what's really going on, especially when the issues being pushed (Affordable Care Act, drilling in ANWR) seem far removed from what issues the group has been designed to support.
In fact, these issues have everything to do with immigration reform. Unfortunately, what the American left seems to be missing is that FWD.us currently has a single goal: passing immigration reform. To that end, it aims only to support candidates on both sides of the aisle who will help get a bill through Congress. Since all other positions are irrelevant to its goals, FWD.us is free to take on whatever shape it needs to appeal to the voters of its chosen candidate. FWD.us is essentially a Machiavellian organization with a single agenda.
So, while it may seem counterintuitive, supporting the conservative agenda is a smart, strategic move in the short term since, after all, it's the American right that needs convincing on immigration reform. Despite support from Republicans, the reforms face tough criticism from some of conservative media's loudest voices. The Heritage Foundation, a prominent conservative think tank, published a study claiming that the total cost of reforms would be in excess of $6 trillion dollars. Conservative news site Breitbart.com recently ran such headlines as "Immigration Bill: Obamacare Redux," and "Opposition to Immigration Bill Growing", and Rush Limbaugh proclaimed in April, "This immigration bill just makes no sense."
This media backlash may explain why opposition to the bill seems to be growing in the House, where a group of representatives have already stated that they have serious concerns about some of the reforms. House leadership has warned that the Senate's bill will not likely be fast-tracked through the House.
Red-state Democrats such as Senator Begich are especially threatened by potential political backlash if they support the bill. According to polls obtained by the National Review, likely voters in those states do not support the reform's major policies, leaving incumbents who may support the legislation vulnerable. Keeping all this in mind, FWD.us seems to be aiming to protect potentially vulnerable incumbents by shoring up their conservative credentials and the conservative nature of the reforms.
Unfortunately, this is what it has come down to. The nation needs immigration reform, but with a dysfunctional Congress, where even bills with popular support die at the hands of the filibuster, meaningful legislation seems out of reach. While FWD.us may aim, and may succeed, in pushing immigration reform, the politics of the situation is fundamentally a no-win scenario for the American people.
Essentially, if reform is passed thanks to the efforts of FWD.us, Americans must ask why it took power and money instead of the will of the people to make Washington work. And if reform fails, Americans must demand to know what it will take to make Congress act. The only silver lining would be, simply, a singular legislative accomplishment — which, if the climate of partisanship remains, may be the only meaningful legislation we see passed this session.