Tag Archives: Conservatives

Tiny Violins

Some of the responses to yesterday’s post as well as some extra reading has me back at the keyboard again to share something thoughts about this rapidly changing situation in Indiana.  I want to focus on one issue in particular: the demand by social conservatives to push for tolerance . So here goes.

Let me be clear: I am arguing for civility and love of enemy here, but I am not blind to the fact that social conservatives have never been accomodating to gay and lesbians.  If you read blog posts, like the this one from Rod Dreher, you would think that they had never done anything wrong.  They were just sitting around minding their own business when WHAM! those bad pro-ssm folks came and started taking away their rights. As Jacob Levy notes, the general public is having a hard time hearing the social conservative’s tiny violins right now:

…as I’ve said before, the newfound desire for opponents of same-sex marriage to defend pluralism and compromise rings very hollow.

The anti-same-sex-marriage movement during its ascendancy in the 1990s and 2000s was viciously and hatefully maximalist. Imagine the different history of America if conservatives in the late 1990s had energetically supported civil unions provided that they not use the word “marriage,” instead of pursuing the most aggressive and restrictionist DOMAs they could get away with in each context, such that where conservative majorities were strongest even ordinary contractual rights that might seem too much like marriage were prohibited, instead of mobilizing boycotts of firms that offered same-sex couples employment benefits! As it is, their defense of private sector liberty and the pluralism it makes possible is many days late and many dollars short. It kicked in only when, starting in the mid-2000s, the political tide turned.

That shouldn’t change our view of the right outcome; some particular cake baker shouldn’t lose his religious liberty because the movement that’s defending him now makes hypocritical arguments. But it does mean that the violin I hear playing when conservatives complain about the supposedly totalizing and compromise-rejecting agenda of same-sex-marriage supporters is very very small indeed.

So, I’m not ignoring that fact and it needs to be said outloud to our social conservative sisters and brothers. In my case, my desire for civility is not because they deserve it, but because I don’t want to act like they have to people like myself.

Beyond the social right claiming victimhood, there are some issues that really do need to be addressed. Ross Douthat shared in a post yesterday where there might be some need for some clarification of what is okay and is an extention of someone’s faith and what is out of bounds.  Douthat’s lists includes the following:

  • “Should religious colleges whose rules or honor codes or covenants explicitly ask students and/or teachers to refrain from sex outside of heterosexual wedlock eventually lose their accreditation unless they change the policy to accommodate gay relationships? At the very least, should they lose their tax-exempt status, as Bob Jones University did over its ban on interracial dating?”

 

  • “In the longer term, is there a place for anyone associated with the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of sexuality in our society’s elite level institutions? Was Mozilla correct in its handling of the Brendan Eich case? Is California correct to forbid its judges from participating in the Boy Scouts? What are the implications for other institutions? To return to the academic example: Should Princeton find a way to strip Robert George of his tenure over his public stances and activities? Would a public university be justified in denying tenure to a Orthodox Jewish religious studies professor who had stated support for Orthodox Judaism’s views on marriage?”

This goes beyond the “baker-florist-photographer” issue.  At this point, we don’t know where that line is.  This means a lot of discussion to hammer out a new agreement.

This leads to a final thought: Why did the Legislature and Governor decide to craft legislation without gay and lesbian voices?  Did they really think such a law would stand when we all know it was passed because of the changes in opinion?  The federal RFRA was passed with bipartisan votes, but the reason it did is because it wasn’t aimed at a certain population.

There are legit issues concerning religious liberty.  They need to be discussed.  But such discussions need to have everyone at the table.  If gays and lesbians are excluded from this, well we will know that social conservatives still see us more as part of the problem and less of the solution.

“The Republican Party is Screwed”

Josh Barro:

Murphy urges Republicans to talk about “economic freedom.” But Mitt Romney did talk a lot about that, and middle-class voters weren’t impressed, because calls for lower taxes and less regulation are not responsive to their need for more jobs and higher wages. Murphy also urges “reform of government institutions like schools,” but that’s an issue for state and local officials.

In order to appeal to the broad middle-class, the party will have to adopt some economic policies that its big donors don’t want. As Ross Douthat points out on Twitter, that means Murphy may have picked the wrong side of the Republican schism: Social conservatives are more likely to signal openness to pro-middle class economic policies than the “hardheaded business types” who fund the party.

But social conservative interest in non-plutocratic economic policy looks awfully soft. When you look at the 2008 and 2012 Republican presidential primaries, social conservatives threw in their lot with the candidates pushing the most regressive economic policies. Mike Huckabee sounds good rhetorical notes about middle-class economic struggles, but he’s also a backer of the hugely regressive “Fair Tax.” While the donor base drives the Republican Party’s orthodoxy on economic policy, conservative activists are not exactly being dragged along — they, too, are opposed to pro-middle class policies.

The upshot is that the Republican Party is screwed: It’s in for a lot of infighting, but both sides of the party’s internal fight are committed to economic policies that are not saleable to the broader public.

As much as I don’t like to admit it, Josh is correct. I would probably fall on the side that Murphy represents and so would many Republicans that don’t care much about the social issues. But the problem isn’t just the social issues, it’s also the economic ones as well. The party is going to have to go through a wholesale makeover, not just a touchup. None of this means that the GOP becomes the diet version of the Democrats, but it does mean speaking to the economic realities Americans face in ways better than they are currently doing and in ways far better than what the Dems are selling. As Barro says in an earlier piece, conservatives are going to have to get used to talking about redistribution.

“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.

When David Brooks Gets Angry…

One of the things that has attracted me to David Brooks over the years is his willingness to not get so heated in his writing.  In a time when it seems that what sells is trying to show everyone how outraged you are, Brooks quiet conservations about issues has always been a breath of fresh air.  Brooks has been criticial of folks accross the political spectrum, but it was never done in a withering attack style.  That’s just not David Brooks.

At least it wasn’t until today.

Brooks incredible tounge lashing of the GOP for it’s dance with default should be a sign to Republicans that they are in danger of losing any and all credibility.  When you get the man who has made a living on calls for civility angry, you’ve pretty much lost the independents and moderates that are needed to win.

The modern GOP is in a bit of a bind. My guess is that even within the halls of Congress there are a number of GOP members of Congress who agree with Brooks.  They want to make a deal with Democrats to avert any kind of fiscal disaster.  But I also think the GOP is trapped by its own ideology; faced with a base that doesn’t want any compromise and will punish any lawmaker that goes against their wishes. As Jonathan Bernstein notes, citing a recent New York Times piece, GOP lawmakers are kept in line using fear:

What matters here, however, isn’t what actually happens in these primaries (after all, virtually all incumbents will survive them), but what’s in the heads of Republican Members of Congress. And for that, it’s possible that the ambiguities and unclear interpretations in Steinhauer’s story reflect accurately a focus on primaries and Tea Party short leashes that dominate the thinking of those Republicans.

All of which means that, at this point, it doesn’t really matter how many establishment figures defect or how harshly they complain: as long as Republican politicians are convinced that their main vulnerability is primary challenges from the right, they’re going to get crazier and crazier. 

The thing is, it’s really not that crazy to worry about challenges from the right. Several Republican incumbents went down to defeat in primaries last year because they were not “pure” enough. It happened enough in 2010 to strike fear in the the hearts of GOP lawmakers. And as Bernstein notes as long as those politicos think this is their fate if they even make a deal, they will ride that crazy train no matter what a columist says about them.

I really don’t know what the solution is.  Of course, GOP lawmakers should make deals, but the reality is they won’t because of what could be the reprocussions of compromising.  Brooks slap accross the face should be a wake-up call, but I doubt it will.  So far, there hasn’t been any consquences for going crazy.  There have been consquences for making deals.  Only when a price is paid for ideological rigidity will the GOP be able to change its course.  The question then will be if it’s too late.

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.