Tag Archives: conservative

“What Are We Going To Do About This?”

My apologies for going so long without a post.  Part of it has to do with me being a bit more cynical about politics these days.  But something has made me want to write a post, so I’m back at least for a little bit.

As the Romney campaign seems to be behind in the polls, there has been a raft of articles about the state of conservatism and the Republican party.  Here’s David Brooks talking about the loss of traditional conservatism. There’s Rod Dreher talking about his losing faith in the GOP after Katrina. Here’s Conor Friedersdorf talking about how conservative media is not helping the GOP. Doug Mataconis talks about how to fix the Republican Party.  Economist Scott Sumner calls the GOP “the stupid party.” I could go on.

There was a time that I was invested in articles like this and would write blog posts talking about how the GOP needed to change and so on.  I still believe the GOP is in trouble and needs to change, and I don’t disagree with what these writers and others have to say about the party.  But I can’t say that I’m excited enough to run to my computer nodding in agreement.  Acutally, reading some of the articles leave me more annoyed than anything.  I’m annoyed because I know these as much as these cris de coeur make sense, I know that they won’t really lead to any real change.  There were a number of these articles four years ago after McCain lost the election and nothing much came from them.

In an email I wrote to Rod Dreher, I explained what I think is missing in these denunciations:

Rod,

I’ve been reading your posts on how the GOP should change with some interest.  I’ve been involved at some level of Republican activism for about a decade now, mostly through Log Cabin Republicans and Republicans for Environmental Protection.  Politically, I am probably a mix of the old Rockefeller Republican with a healthy dose of libertarianism mixed in.  While I found your articles engaging, I also came away frustrated.  I believe its important to read some of the great conservative philosophers but I am left feeling that reading Kirk and ignoring Fox is not enough. 

What has frustrated me the most about heterodox conservatives is how much they complain about what is wrong with conservatism and how much these folks disdain the give and take of everyday politics.  It’s as if people want something different, but they don’t want to get their hands dirty in trying.  Over the years, I’ve seen people who seem to have some passion in changing the GOP get fired up for a bit and then leave.  There’s no will to stay and change things for the better. 

The thing is, if people want a Republican Party that has a less hawkish foreign policy, is fiscally conservative and is interested in the common good and not just the self, then people have to get involved.  Yes. we need an intellectual foundation, but we also need other organizations that can support and put forth candidates that can carry these ideas and bring these ideas to fruition.

But all of this means getting involved and having to actually persuade people towards this vision of conservatism.  And that’s something we don’t want to do.

So keep up the writing on this topic.  But unless folks move from thinking to action, don’t expect the GOP or conservatism to change.

I’ve written about this before.  I’m not saying things are great in the GOP.  There are a lot of problems.  But I am reminded of something I said a few years ago to a colleague as she complained about the lack of a children’s ministry at the church I am serving at.  I basically told her in my usual subtle way, “What Are You Going to Do About It?”

“What Are You Going to Do About It?” Yes, I know you have aren’t crazy about the GOP. Good for you for sharing it.  But, so what?  Do you really think the Eric Ericksons of the conservative blogosphere give a rip what you think?  Do you really think just bitching about how wrong the party and the conservative movement is will make things change?

The thing that bothers me is not that these folks are complaining: it’s that they aren’t really offering ideas on what should happen next, let alone how to refashion American conservatism.

In 2010, I wrote about “Why Moderate Republicans Suck.”  What I wrote back then applies to those heterodox conservatives as well:

…the hard right is a movement. There are groups of like-minded individuals that come together and are able to force change in the party. A single person realizes they are part of a larger movement and that gives them the stregnth to march forward.

On the other side, moderates are at best a collection of individuals.  We tend to feel lost and alone and don’t feel a connection to anything greater than us. Because we are isolated, we don’t feel as empowered and tend to give up easily.

If the GOP is to moderate, then there needs to be an effective moderate movement within the GOP forcing change. Nothing will ever happen unless these collection of frustrated individuals come together and organize.

Hence, why we moderates suck.

If we want to see the GOP reform, there has to be Something more: think tanks, political PACs to help hetrodox candidates run for office, committed activists.

I don’t expect Brooks or Friedersdorf or any other the other writers to take up the busy work of a countermovement.  But I would like to hear them urge folks to be “mad as hell and not take it anymore.”  I want them to urge people to run for office or organize a bunch of people to go to the next state caucus.  I just want something that will move this beyond the complaining stage.

“What Are We Going To Do About This?”  It’s a question I fear we are afraid of answering.

The Gay Rights Hero?

Comedian S.E. Cupp doesn’t think so:

Wouldn’t it have been more courageous if Obama had evolved a bit before the North Carolina vote, not after? And wouldn’t it have been more sincere and meaningful if his revelation weren’t so obviously connected to his reelection and fund-raising efforts?

Or if it weren’t prompted by a gaffe from the gaffe-prone Vice President Biden, who had declared on “Meet the Press” that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage, thus forcing the President’s hand.

Considering the timing and the political implications, it’s clear that Obama’s message to gay America wasn’t so much “I love you” as it was “I’m okay with you and want your vote.” It was the equivalent of hitting the “like” button on a Facebook page.

 

Jon Huntsman, Conservative

One of the biggest problems that John McCain faced in 2000 and again in 2008 is how people portrayed him.  Because he had chastised the far right on one occasion or another, people started to paint McCain as a centrist Republican, completely ignoring his record which was actually pretty conservative.  People wanted to see in John McCain what they wanted to see and when reality stared them in the face, they were shocked that this candidate that they lauded as a moderate or centrist was really a conservative.

Now it’s Jon Huntman’s turn.  Because he has staked out positions to the left of the party on civil unions and the environment, he immediately got tagged as the reincarnation of Nelson Rockefeller.  Which is why I think Jess Chapman wrote this very odd post taking the conservative Utah governor for pandering to….conservatives.

Chapman links to this Yahoo story where Huntsman met with a group of Tea Party activists in South Carolina:

Those who braved the heat to show up to the presidential forum in the Palmetto State — home of the first Southern presidential primary — admitted they came skeptical of Huntsman’s conservative credentials.

“I think candidates need to have constructive criticism, and that’s what people are saying about him,” Jones, the woman who did the impromptu audience survey, told The Daily Caller. “That he’s a moderate.”

Despite the fact he governed in conservative Utah, how did he get that reputation?

His speeches aren’t exactly fiery like those of fellow candidates Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain or potential rival Sarah Palin. He once worked for President Obama, as ambassador. And last week, he was the only major presidential candidate to support the debt-ceiling compromise struck by Republicans on Capitol Hill and the White House.

Huntsman, who was tie-less on Sunday and shed his blazer once on-stage, spent the next hour at Scott’s forum trying to convince those like Jones that he is no moderate or liberal Republican.

He got loud applause by praising the district’s freshman conservative congressman by saying, “thank god for Tim Scott.” They applauded again when he said President Obama has “failed us” and when he said the country needs a balanced budget amendment, a favorite of tea partiers.

And when it comes to paying down the country’s debt, he said “everything needs to be on the table,” including entitlements and defense.

“We can’t have any sacred cows in this debate,” Huntsman said.

 

Chapman saw this as a loss of nerve:

When former Ambassador Jon Huntsman (R-UT) announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, I was thrilled. He had a solid record on both domestic and foreign policy; he had executive experience; he had the potential to be a true political uniter; and even if the Republicans dropped him, we centrists could have someone around whom to rally if he went third-party. Then he hit the campaign trail and lost his balls. It’s quite a common tale.

Huntsman was in Charleston, SC, yesterday, at a town hall organized by Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), one of the young Tea Party guns. Put him together with a room full of like-minded people, and you can easily find yourself under enormous pressure to toe the line, which is exactly what Huntsman did. He asked the crowd to look at his record – and then took great pains to stress his status as a “conservative problem solver,” emphasis on the “conservative.” A few shots at President Obama and props to Scott, and he was in business. As far as we know.

 

When Huntsman announced his candidacy earlier in the year, I wrote a post about how folks have tended to misconstrue his conservative record.  What made him different was not that he was a moderate, but that he was a conservative that was open to reaching out to moderates.  Here’s what I wrote back then:

Huntsman’s support for civil unions and responding to climate change has had him pegged as some sort of Rockefeller Republican (which has been described as in one reading). But his moderation is one more of tone than it is one of politics. While such moderation might not be attractive to die hard centrists, I do think it might be more appealing to those who want to be persuaded to vote GOP, but don’t feel they can’t with some of the current crop of candidates (think Michelle Bachmann). I don’t think it’s an accident that Huntsman kicked off his campaign at the same place Ronald Reagan did a generation ago.  I think he is less about reviving a moderate, northeastern-style Republicanism, than he is reviving a Western conservatism ala Reagan.  Reagan was no doubt a conservative, but he is remembered as trying to expand the conservative family, instead forcing purity tests on folks.

Huntsman is not a moderate politically, but he is trying to hone a civil and civic-minded conservatism, something that just might appeal to moderates and independents.

Jess and others might want to read past articles by Daniel Alott and Ezra Klein to see that Huntsman has governed as a conservative.

As for meeting with Tea Party conservatives?  Well, they aren’t my (pardon the pun) cup of tea, but I know that this is part of politics.  If Huntsman is serious about winning the GOP nomination, he has to meet with all types of folks and that includes the Tea Party.  Coupled with a his recent outreach efforts to moderates in New Hampshire, he is doing what Ronald Reagan did 30 years ago: reach out to the different part of the GOP and even try to grow the party. If he went on television denouncing the Tea Party and calling them wingnuts, he might get the praise of centrists and liberals, but if he did that, he might as well give up any chance of winning in the GOP.  If he wants to win, he has to play nice with the Tea Party.  Jess might not like it.  I might not like it.  But this is politics.  It’s not like he’s started parroting Michelle Bachmann or something.

Which brings me back to the comparisons with John McCain.  McCain always had to deal with people who wanted to see in McCain what they wanted to see.  Huntsman is facing the same problem. Chapman wants Huntsman to stay moderate/centrist all the time, but that’s kind of impossible since he was never a moderate to begin with.  He’s a conservative that wants to reach out to moderates and in the world of Republican politics, that’s good enough.

 

A Plausible Third Party Scenario?

What happens to the political class if the debt ceiling talks fail?  Political analyst Jeff Greenfield thinks it might provide the backdrop for the rise of a third party:

At 2:30 on Monday morning, Aug. 1, 2011, the clerk of the House announced that the motion had failed. Within 24 hours, the government of the United States would be unable to pay its debts.

The political recriminations were as swift and ferocious as the economic fallout, which the hastily contrived debt-ceiling fix three days later did nothing to soften. The 1,400-point drop in the Dow, Moody’s move to downgrade the rating of federal debt, the fever spike in interest rates for mortgages and business loans, the delays in paying federal contractors, the impending layoffs — all had been predicted months before the debt limit was breached.

And the first wave of public reaction was equally predictable: Congress’s job-approval rating fell into the low teens, while President Obama’s dropped into the mid-20s. Nine in 10 Americans surveyed said they thought the country was on the wrong track (“The 10th one is in a coma,” Conan O’Brien quipped).

But then something else began to happen to American politics, something that turned a long-standing political fantasy into a reality…

Until now, when the two-party system had failed at one of the government’s most basic jobs: protecting the full faith and credit of the country’s obligations. The persistent, low-level discontent with Republicans and Democrats suddenly became a tidal wave sweeping across ideological lines, encapsulated by one tweetable, postable, share-able word: “Enough!”

I think Greenfield puts forth a plausible scenario, but I’m still skeptical.  Is the Great American Middle angry enough to demand change?  Is it willing to get involved to making government work?  Would the debt ceiling crisis be the catalyst to launching a great reform in America?

I want to believe that something could happen, something that will move us beyond this deadlock that has made American politics so toxic.  I’m just not so sure Americans give a damn as much as to bring about something new.

I’d like to be proven wrong.

Repost: Hey, Let’s Start a Third Party!

Last week, I stumbled upon an article by centrist pundit John Avalon on one of this favorite subjects: starting a centrist third party. Stories like this used to excite me, but these days, not so much. Below is a repost from September 2010 that explains why my love for a third party has cooled. I’m curious to hear from the centrists out there about this. Can a third party emerge? How?

A recent Gallup Poll has stated that Americans increasingly want a third party saying that both the GOP and Democrats have done a poor job. The poll notes that the biggest support for a third party comes from Independents with 74 percent wanting an third option. Whenever there is talk of a third party option it always follows with that this new party will be a centrist one that will appeal to those in the middle.

There was a time that such polls filled me with hope. Now I respond with a sort of “meh.”

Why? Because in some ways, these polls are meaningless. Yes, a lot of people want third parties. I want a third party. But a lot of people also want sunny days and to lose 30 pounds. Wanting a third party is not the same as having a third party movement.

As Dick Polman notes that the desire for a third party has had appeal in good times and in bad times. It has become a constant of wanting some kind of third force is beyond the stale choices of the elephant and the donkey. But despite that desire, a viable third party has never emerged? Why? Well, lack of ideas for one:

…despite all these spikes of majority interest, then and now, no viable third party has ever emerged; and the list of failed third-party leaders, and those who froze at the starting gate, is ever-lengthening: Perot, Powell, John Anderson, Ralph Nader, Lowell Weicker, Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, Pat Buchanan, Michael Bloomberg. (NYC mayor Bloomberg froze in ’07, and now his name apparently is being floated again, mostly by Bloomberg.)

The main reason for the persistence of the GOP-Democratic duopoly – aside from the fact that a viable third party faces serious financial and ballot access obstacles – is that there is no broad agreement on what a viable third party should stand for. Powell talked about a party that would represent “the sensible center,” but the problem is that everyone has a different concept of what is sensibly centrist.

Gallup reports that the greatest support for a third party comes from the tea-partiers; 62 percent say yes to the concept. They would undoubtedly argue that it’s sensibly centrist to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich and to eradicate a variety of federal safety-net programs. Gallup also reports, however, that 61 percent of liberals favor the third-party idea – but they would surely argue that it’s sensibly centrist to march out of Afghanistan and to offer Americans the option of government health insurance.

And there you have it. We can’t really have a centrist third party if we don’t know what the center is all about. We can have a center-left party. We can have center-right party. We can even have a centrist party, but it means spelling out what centrist means. As long as it remains airy-fairy then all the talk about a third party is in vain.

A third party has to be built; it just doesn’t appear. I stumbled upon an old blog post from an Indian magazine that talks about the need for true center-right party in India. What this writer said could apply to the situation here in America:

Swatantra, India’s first and only genuinely right of center party openly advocated free markets, individual freedom and private property rights long before these terms became fashionable. In fact, at a time in which socialism was on march and was increasingly seen as the natural system of governance, it stood upto it and offered an alternative system of governance.

But Swatantra leaders were not merely politicians. Its president, C.R.Rajagopalachari popularly known as Rajaji was an intellectual tour de force: brilliant writer and a passionate speaker. Rajaji’s open defiance of the existing consensus was in many ways repudiation of his own life’s work–better part of which was spent in Congress. Apart from Rajaji, Swatantra was blessed with towering intellects such as K.M Munshi, Minno Masani and H.M Patel many of whom were not only intellectual leaders of the country but also institutional builders.

If a real third party is going to emerge, then you need people spanning from intellectuals to media types, to politicians, to the common joe. Real political movements are built and they need “institution builders” to do that.

The other observation is that third parties exist already in America. If Americans are upset at the Big Two, then they might want to consider supporting other parties.

So, as much as I would love to see a real thrid or fourth or fifth party, I don’t see it happening until America stops wishing for more parties and starts acting on it.

Political Parties Versus Political Movements

So, is the GOP a normal political party?  David Brooks has his doubts, and to be honest at times, so do I.  In a normal world someone like former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman would have a chance a presidential candidate.  People would look at his record and see that at least when it comes to fiscal matters, the governor is a conservative.

But like Brooks said yesterday, I don’t the GOP or at least large swaths of it is a regular political party, but is instead a political movement.  Jonthan Tobin explains why he and his fellow writers at Commontary magazine are  not that crazy about Huntsman:

Utah’s economic record does speak well for Huntsman, but the problem with his candidacy does not stem from worries about that aspect of his record. Huntsman has entered the GOP race as a moderate dripping with contempt for conservatives and clearly attempting to position himself as the darling of media elites and country club Republicans. After serving two years as President Obama’s ambassador to China, he has been slow to understand the one thing that unites the GOP is anger about the president’s policies.

This comes after a Huntsman supporter gave reasons why the magazine should consider Huntman.  Among the arguments:

Opinion polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans rank “the economy” and “jobs” as the top political issue.  Huntsman’s past economic performance speaks of nothing but success.   As governor of Utah, Huntsman signed the largest tax cut ($225 million) in the conservative state’s history, winning him the 2008 Cato Institute tax award and the 2007 Taxpayer Advocate Award; he fought against regulations hampering commerce (including, controversially, some of Utah’s more stringent liquor limitations); and he brought new high-tech businesses to the states.  The result? The American Legislative Exchange Council called Utah the top state for expected economic recovery.

On paper, Huntman is a pretty competent conservative.  His fiscal policy should be a dream to most conservatives.  As far as I’ve known, Huntsman has never said a harsh thing about other Republicans.  And why is the conservative media so fixated on how much the mainstream media loves Huntsman?  I don’t think the love fest is as big as people think (a few articles does not make a love afair.)  And if we are going to talk about media love affairs with certain Republican candidates, can we talk about the conservative media elite’s love for Michelle Bachmann? (She’s on the cover of both National Review and the Weekly Standard.)

I think it doesn’t matter to many if a candidate has a conservative fiscal record.  If they don’t run around talking about the Democrats as the spawn of Satan, or see President Obama as a socialist, then they don’t matter among the conservative media.  It’s the telltale sign a political movement versus a political party.

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Whenever I start talking about issues regarding the budget, I tend to get a few responses that go like this: the Democrats are pragmatic and the Republicans are crazy.

I tend to roll my eyes when I hear that because I tend to think it’s too simplistic and tends to look at any and all political issues in a black and white viewpoint.  I like to believe life is a lot more complicated than that. That, and most of the folks that are saying this seem to be hard partisans that will always find the other side as crazy while they are rational and sane.

While I don’t think the entire GOP is nuts, there is always a bit of truth in everything.  There are those in the GOP who I think are able to control the debate when it comes to the budget.  They have turned tax policy into a religion and not in a good way.

David Brooks takes the Republicans to task for basically squandering a perfect opportunity to get control of federal spending.  As Brooks notes in today’s column, the GOP has in many ways “won” the debate on spending and has forced the Democrats’ hand when it comes to the budget.

But instead of declaring victory and making a deal which would include closing tax expenditures and maybe even raising taxes, the party has not budged from its “no-taxes” stance, risking the federal government to default in a month’s time. Here’s what Brooks notes about the GOP.

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.

This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

Brooks pretty much tears the GOP a new one for not acting like a political party that makes deals and instead like a protest movement that doesn’t allow for any compromise.

And he’s correct in doing so.

Politics is and has always been a mix of compromise and principle.  It’s one thing to talk use ideology as a governing framework to guide oneself in a democratic society.  It’s is another thing to use ideology as something to hide behind, to keep yourself from governing and representing the people.

What the GOP is being asked to do is to accept closing some tax loopholes and subsidies.  Yes, that would mean “taxes would rise.” But really, are we talking about raising rates back to the Eisenhower era of 9o some percent?  No.

What this comes down to is what the GOP wants to be in the next few years.  It can choose to be a governing political party that accepts compromise and takes into account that there is another political party that they have to deal with, or it can choose to be a protest movement that doesn’t care as much about governing than it does getting accross it’s ideological message.  It can’t be both.

Republicans have an opportunity to make more inroads in 2012.  They actually might have a chance to win the White House.  But if the party chooses ideological conformity over responsible governing, they can expect to see those chances slip away.  As David Brooks says at the end of his column:

The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

Indeed.

One Small Gay Step for Republicankind

While some might think the GOP is hopelessly homophobic, there have been green shoots of greater acceptance of gays and lesbians.  Today, we see that Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director, R. Clarke Cooper was tapped by the Republican National Committee to serve on its Finance Committee.

Let me repeat that.  Openly gay man, who heads an organization of openly gay Republicans,  is asked to serve on the fundraising committee of the Republican Party.

Kinda amazing, don’t you think?

This didn’t please the folks at the Family Research Council.  The Advocate reports how they responded:

In a blog post this afternoon, the Christian conservative lobbying group denounced Cooper’s appointment — as well as his organization’s “homosexual-centered” aims — which include bringing a lawsuit against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (a federal judge ruled DADT unconstitutional last September).

In a subsequent fund-raising plea, the post’s author, FRC vice president for government affairs Tom McClusky, urged readers to donate to his organization’s own political action committee — or to the Senate Conservatives Fund, chaired by South Carolina senator Jim DeMint.

The blog post is accompanied by an image of the Disney character Dumbo, with an alt tag that reads “elephant gay.”

 

Stay classy, FRC. Below is a pic that Log Cabin was able to capture from the FRC website.

Log Cabin fired back with a fundraising email of its own:

Dear Family Research Council,

Log Cabin Republicans don’t mind that you called us“Dumbo,” because on Election Day, we want to see elephants fly – to the White House, Congress, and in statehouses nationwide.

 

Now, that’s class.

I think this is an important step for the GOP.  It wasn’t too long ago that we had the chair of the RNC who was in the closet and having to support an anti-gay agenda.  To have someone out and proud serving at such a high level in the GOP is nothing but good.

What ‘Tax the Rich’ Gets You

Mike at the Big Stick points to a blog post by Iowahawk on the fallacy that taxing only the rich will solve anything.  It’s pretty tounge-in-cheek but the point is made: raising taxes soley on upper incomes won’t solve our fiscal problems.  Mike says it best:

The point is that while the rich are a convenient target for the Left it’s a fantasy to believe that raising taxes on them will create financial solvency. What is necessary, in my opinion, is raising taxes on all but the poorest Americans and cutting spending deeply. Anything else is pointless.

Indeed. Much has been said about the conservative fantasy that all fiscal problems can be solved by cutting the budget. But it is equally silly to think that “the rich can pay for it all.”

There is saying that Americans want Swedish-style government at Mississippi-style prices. If we want to make sure that government is well funded and sustainable, then both sides will have to give up their fantasies and come up with some mixture of spending cuts and increased taxes accross the board.  Anything else is a pipe dream.