Category Archives: Centrist

An Example of “Make Everybody Hurt?”

Nick Goebel is impressed with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s brand of fiscal discipline:

Governor Snyder’s budget that he unveiled last week is a truly unique document in so many ways.  For one, it is an apolitical document that cuts from almost every constituency.  Unlike Republican Governor Walker in Wisconsin, Snyder did not just cut from political constituencies that are loyal to Democrats; he also took on loyal Republican constituencies.  For example, senior citizens could see their pensions taxed if Snyder’s budget is passed.  It is obvious that the Governor’s objective was not to score political points or protect political allies.  As Lt. Governor Brian Calley said, “Whenever people would get weak in the knees and offer a political answer about why not to do something,” Snyder would come back with, “What’s the right thing to do?”

This makes me wonder if Synder if following along the lines of what David Brooks said in an oped last week regarding dealing with state and federal budget issues: “Make Everybody Hurt.”  Brooks believes that budget cuts can only make sense if everyone’s sacred cow gets gored.  His belief is that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s approach is too partisan: only attacking programs favored by Democrats or programs that don’t have a constituency to fight back.  His fellow Republican Synder, is willing to take on people who do vote, like his plan to tax retirees benefits in an effort to balance the budget.

I happened to be back in Michigan when Gov. Synder gave his State of the State address in January.  I thought it has some great ideas and the budget he came out with was fair-minded in my view. It will be interesting to see what approach will benefit the GOP over the long run: Walker’s go for the jugular tactic or Synder’s quiet diplomacy. Time will tell.

Beyond the Roar of the Crowds

Matt Bai has a great article up today about the Republicans and the upcoming 2012 election. The temptation is to get a candidate that will fire up the base and wow the crowds. In doing so, Bai tells the GOP to remember what happened to the Democrats in 2004 with Howard Dean:

Now flash forward to 2003, when another little-known governor from a small state, Howard Dean of Vermont, joined the messy field of candidates vying to take on President George W. Bush. Mr. Dean began that campaign as a proven centrist in the Clinton mold, espousing two central planks: health care reform and a balanced budget.

By then, though, the activist base of the party had had its fill of Clintonism, and it was demanding a candidate who would make a more ideologically pure indictment of conservatism. Mr. Dean grabbed an oar and steered furiously into the current. “I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party!” he told the California Democratic convention in March 2003, bringing the crowd to its feet.

Within months, Mr. Dean had so surpassed his rivals in money and glamour that ABC’s Ted Koppel, moderating a Democratic debate, felt moved to ask the other candidates if they thought Mr. Dean could beat Mr. Bush. He needn’t have wondered; as it turned out, Mr. Dean ended up winning only two primaries, in his home state and the District of Columbia.

The main lesson Republicans might take from this admittedly selective contrast is that chasing the applause of the faithful, even in a party that is more ideologically cohesive, generally gets you only so far. Aspirants at this week’s forum can elevate themselves by playing, both rhetorically and substantively, to a base that’s virulently anti-Washington and anti-Obama. But the wider primary electorate may judge such stridently partisan candidates to be unelectable.

Bai says the lesson Republicans should follow is that of Bill Clinton, who persued a more moderate path that brought the Dems back in the White House after sixteen years and also led to two back to back terms:

What Mr. Clinton proved, however, is that laying out a more affirmative vision of what the party should stand for, and trying to persuade activists of its merits, makes for a more enduring campaign, both in the primaries and in November. This would suggest that if you’re Mr. Thune or Mr. Daniels, you don’t necessarily have to win the approval of everyone in the room at CPAC; you just have to convince them, over time, that yours is the vision that will ultimately attract enough independent voters to return the party to power.

There is an obvious lesson here for the GOP base and establishment, especially in light of this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). But I also think there is a lesson here for political centrists within the Republican Party.

The news this week is that Tea Party is officially going after Maine moderate Olympia Snowe when she comes up for re-election. Solomon Kleinsmith thinks this is proof-positive that Snowe is no longer welcomed in the GOP and instead should run as an independent. It’s an attractive option and I tend to wander back and forth from the idea of moderate Republicans running as independents or not. But I wonder if in the long run, the better option is stand and persuade instead of leaving.

I think the problem with centrists on both sides of the isle is that they have a problem explaining why they are needed and why people should vote for them. Like Mainline Protestant Christians, centrists have been part of their party for so long, that they forget why they are where they are. Very seldom do they present a true governing vision. Whenever I hear some moderate person running for office, what they usually talk about is being able to work accross the isle, or come up with the best ideas of left and right, or what have you. They want to come accross as an able functionary, but what the average voter wants is a compelling vision. Clinton in 1992 had a vision of what he wanted and that’s what propelled him to victory.

I think that in this age of the Tea Party, moderate and even conventional Republicans have to explain clearly what is their governing vision. Why do they want to be in public office?

One reason that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder won is because he presented a real vision for governing. He is a roadmap for moderates within the GOP. It’s not enough to be moderate. One has to be able to say how they would want to govern and make their society better than what it was. He was able to bring independents into the GOP .

Now, maybe Snowe could win as an independent. But the thing is, if she can’t explain why she should be elected other than “vote for me, because I’m moderate,” then she won’t win. In Minnesota, former Republican Tom Horner ran as an independent/third party candidate. But most of his spiel was to run as a functionary, not a visionary. The result was that he won 12 percent of the vote.

That said, if she wins as an independent what does that mean? Joe Liberman ran as an independent, but for the most part he voted with the Dems. How is that “independent?”

I think in the end, centrists in the GOP (all five of us) need to better explain why we are a better choice than a Tea Party candidate. We need to persuade folks to who might not have ever pulled the “R” lever to actually vote for Republicans. I want to see the Scott Browns, Richard Lugars and Olympia Snowes come up with a real compelling vision that will make people vote for them in primaries over a Tea Partier. It’s time to make a stand.

The End of the DLC

There was a time when the centrist Democratic Leadership Council was the example of a way to win as Democrat.  It helped get Bill Clinton elected in 1992.  But that was a long time ago, and since that time, the DLC has lost its importance and now will close its doors:

The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday.

The DLC, a network of Democratic elected officials and policy intellectuals had long been fading from its mid-’90s political relevance, tarred by the left as a symbol of “triangulation” at a moment when there’s little appetite for intra-party warfare on the center-right. The group tried — but has failed — to remake itself in the summer of 2009, when its founder, Al From, stepped down as president. Its new leader, former Clinton aide Bruce Reed, sought to remake the group as a think tank, and the DLC split from its associated think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute.

It’s sad to hear this, since the DLC was at one time a vivid example of something sorely needed on the American center-right; an organization representing the center and putting forth winning ideas.

Dan Riehl thinks this is a triumph of the far left:

Perhaps the clearest sign, yet, that Democrats have abandoned the Center for the Far Left. At this rate, they will be a regional (coastal) party before long.

Of course, one could also say that the GOP has abandoned the center for the far right as well. 

So what happens now that what was once a storied organization on the center-left leaves the scene?

Don’t Underestimate Huntsman

Solomon Kleinsmith offers a smart take on a prospective Huntsman run for the White House:

It would be a mistake to count moderate Republican Jon Huntsman out for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, and even more of a mistake if Republicans don’t give him serious consideration.

To start with the candidate himself, you can’t ignore the X-Factor. Huntsman has it. It’s more of a calm charisma than the chummy feel you get with Huckabee, head and shoulders above McCain’s gruffness and much more genuine-feeling than Romney. Add his executive experience as the governor of a deep red state and successful business background, and he’ll be looking pretty good to fiscally-focused Republicans that don’t care as much about social issues.

Read the rest.

To the Barricades!

David Frum wonders why with a 9 percent unemployment rate, people in the States aren’t taking to the streets ala Egypt:

Jon Stewart has some fun with Fox News personalities like Glenn Beck who worry that “we might become Egypt.” Yes silly obviously. But behind the silliness is a serious question: Isn’t the most remarkable thing about the US in 2011 precisely the absence of protest by the unemployed and foreclosed? Here we’ve gone through the most protracted economic crisis since World War II – in many ways the most severe crisis – a crisis directly attributable to terrible business decisions supported by government policies bought-and-paid-for by powerful financial interests – a crisis out of which so many of the authors have escaped unscathed (unlike say 1929-33) and indeed richer than before. And yet … the only populist movement the country has seen is a movement of the right, in defense of the existing rules and arrangements? I can think of many explanations, and yet at a deeper level I remain baffled. I expected otherwise.

There are few things about this paragraph that interest me.  I’m not an economist, but  compared to the Great Depression, unemployment is not as bad.  The figures that I keep hearing bandied about is that the unemployment rate was about 25 percent back then as opposed to nearly 10 today.  Having one in ten people unemployed isn’t good, but it’s not one in four.

Several left-leaning and/or centrist  blogs have talked about the fact that there is more income inequality in the United States than there is in Egypt, which again leads some to wonder why there aren’t demonstrations in our major cities. There is also a counterargument that has appeared on many right-leaning and or centrist blogs that state that the poorest American is richer than the poorest Indian.

All of this is to say that it’s hard to equate what is going in Egypt to what is going in the United States.  They are two different nations with different systems.  It might be that people here might have it bad in the wake of the Great Recession, but they know its not as bad as it could have been.  When it comes to why people aren’t demanding blood from the bankers that helped us get into this mess, we forget that in 1929 there were few safeguards to protect average people.  There was no FDIC for one thing.  In this day and age, people aren’t losing their bank accounts and they have things like unemployment insurance when they are without work to keep them from utter poverty.

The thing is, while things are bad today, they are not as desparate economically as they are in Egypt or as they were in American circa 1932.  Which might be why folks aren’t hitting the streets in protest.

What do you think?

Do Republicans Care About Health Care Reform?

Blogger E.D. Kain has a post up on health care.  More specificially, it focuses on the GOP efforts or lack there of on health care. He opines:

There have been no real efforts at reform emanating from the right. The closest thing was the Wyden/Bennett bill to which Bob Bennett hung his name and and for which he subsequently lost his long-held senate seat. That, in any case, was the brainchild of Ron Wyden, a real champion of the healthcare debates. I’m glad several Republicans were willing to sign on to it, even if they did so knowing it would never pass. Certainly no Republicans would now. Continue reading

Run, Jon, Run?

I’ve always found it interesting that when looking at the current state of the GOP there are cries for the party to “moderate.”  So, when a candidate comes forward that tends to be more open-minded and willing to open up the party, then people say that said candidate has zero chance to win in the primaries or they start to say that said candidate isn’t so moderate after all.

Jon Huntsman is a different kind of Republican. He has his conservative bona fides, but he is also pragmatic and tends to be forward thinking on issues like the environment and gay rights.  There has been a lot of press about him as of late regarding the Presidential campaign next year.  There are signs he will step down from his ambassordial post in China to launch a bid for the White House.

Now, there are bloggers who are already say that this campaign is foolish.  They say he is too liberal for the GOP base, that working under President Obama will end his campaign, that a center-right moderate ran last time and lost, blah, blah blah. 

I think around the blogosphere, there are two assumption that take hold when thinking about the GOP.  The first one is that the party is too right-wing and needs to be more moderate for long term viability.  The second assumption is that the base is so right wing that assumption one will never happen.

I sometimes wonder if assumption one is basically saying that the Republicans needs to be like the Democrats only less so.  Of course, if you run someone that is basically a Democrat, well of course that person’s candidacy is sunk.  But if the candidate runs ala the UK’s David Cameron, holding fast to conservative principles and reaching out beyond the base, then maybe someone like Huntsman has a chance.

One of the reasons that Huntsman was sent on a slow boat to China was because Team Obama was afraid of Huntsman.  Why?  Because Huntsman was a Republican Obama, someone who could hold on to the base and reach the middle as well.  Better to get a potential rival out of the way and hope for someone like a Sarah Palin.

If Huntsman can perform the balancing act of being conservative and reaching out to the center, he just could have a shot in 2012. 

PS: Pejman Yousefzadeh has a great post on Huntsman running for President.

Why Republicans Hate Mass Transit

Via Reihan Salam, Yonah Freemark explains why the GOP tends to be so against mass transit.  The answer should not surprise anyone- it boils down to location:

But how can we explain the open hostility of so many members of the GOP to any federal spending at all for non-automobile transportation? Why does a transfer of power from the Democratic Party to the Republicans engender such political problems for urban transit?

We can find clues in considering the districts from which members of the House of Representatives of each party are elected.

As shown in the chart above (in Log scale), there was a relatively strong positive correlation between density of congressional districts and the vote share of the Democratic candidate in the 2010 elections. Of densest quartile of districts with a race between a Democrat and a Republican — 105 of them, with a density of 1,935 people per square miles or more — the Democratic candidate won 89. Of the quartile of districts with the lowest densities — 98 people per square mile and below — Democratic candidates only won 23 races. As the chart below demonstrates (in regular scale), this pattern is most obvious in the nation’s big cities, where Democratic Party vote shares are huge when densities are very high.


This would make sense: as the center of the GOP moved from the Northeast and Midwest, which tend to be transit-dependent- to the South and Southwest, we have seen a drop in support for transit.  Conversely as the center of the Democrats became more urban, it became the party of mass transit.

None of this means that there are no Republicans who favor mass transit, but the culture of the party makes them the minority.

Just another example of how the dividing line between the political parties has more to do with culture than it does with policy.

Why NPR Matters

James Joyner reminds us why news outfits like National Public Radio are so important- warts and all.  He tried watching some of the American media’s reaction to the situation and Egypt and found it wanting:

American television news puts “too much focus on talking to pundits and politicos and not enough of an attempt to talk to actual experts.”   It’s a complaint that I’ve had for more than a decade.  No matter the topic, they bring on the usual suspects — journalists and political operatives who’ll show up in the studio at the drop of a hat to opine about anything. It’s vapid but comfortable.   Fred Barnes might not know anything about Egypt but, by golly, viewers know what he is.

And real experts tend to be bad on TV. First, most are too cautious about being forward leaning, preferring to stay within the  zone of what they actual know.  Second, they’re not practiced in the art of the sound byte.  Real analysis is complicated and nuanced; producers and show hosts want 15-20 second answers that put things in clear, black-and-white terms.

Author and regular OTB commenter Michael Reynolds notes, too, that “Al Jazeera, BBC and NPR are entirely or partly funded by governments. CNN, MCNBC and Fox are private” and adds, “Private industry emphatically does not do everything better.”

And there’s much to this.  It’s not exactly that private news channels can’t do a fantastic job.   ABC, NBC, and CBS did so within my memory.  And CNN did so even more recently. But they did so under quasi-monopoly conditions.

When people had little choice but to watch news programming at the dinner hour, the three networks had strong incentive to compete with one another on the basis of depth of coverage.   I recall from my youth the days when ABC had three anchors, including future solo anchor Peter Jennings broadcasting from London.   But, with the proliferation of cable, Americans were increasingly choosing to watch something other than news:  game shows, re-runs, SportsCenter, or whathaveyou.

With the incentive gone, news programming began to be viewed as an expense, and the networks largely did away with foreign coverage.  Not only is it expensive to produce, but Americans generally don’t care about it unless there’s a crisis.  But, since by definition we don’t know where crises will break out ahead of time, it’s cheaper to simply parachute in to cover them.  And hard news began to soften, including more human interest stories and politics-as-sports coverage.

BBC, NPR, and Al Jazeera are free from having to draw a large audience and can simply focus on what they think the audience needs to hear.  But there’s a ridiculously small appetite for this most of the time.

Al Jazeera is uniquely situated to cover the mess in Egypt and will get a nice bounce from doing such a fantastic job.  Maybe the cable companies will start carrying them here.   But they’ll never have a steady American audience; people will tune out until they care about the Middle East again.

As for NPR, I’m glad it exists and don’t mind paying the tiny bit of my taxes that support it.  Then again, the audience is mostly listeners like me.  (Indeed, they remind me of that often.)  So maybe I should have to pay for it, like I do HBO and Showtime.

Kevin Drum responds by saying that Americans made their choice- voting with the pocketbooks to say that they don’t really care about foreign news.  True.  Which is why, for all my complaints about its more liberal bias, we need something like NPR.  They still believe in gathering the news and they send reporters around the world to cover breaking stories in places most us don’t care about.

I think it’s worth my tax dollars and monthly contributions to help NPR do its job and do it well.