Tag Archives: ideology

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.


Wishing for a New Politics

I want to write this long post about how politics in the United States is  broken and how a new politics needs to emerge- but the words not coming to me right now.  In the meantime, Walter Russell Mead’s latest essay on what he calls “Liberalism 5.0” will have to do.  The blog post made me think that the American center and center-right is in some ways still operating in the old Liberalism 4.0 framework.  (I tend to think the No Labels effort is a longing for post-war consensus politics.)  If there is going to be any way to make the GOP a “Grand New Party” and one that counters the Sarah Palin/Tea Party narrative, then it has to come from a new politics, not a rehashing of the old.

Read the essay and tell me what you think.

Happy Holidays.

Reform the GOP; Not Conservatism

Commenter Bubbaquimby responds to my post on David Frum possibly leaving conservatism:

I guess instead of trying to reform conservative, I would rather have him reform the GOP. And there is a big difference between the two.
Conservatives know they can win the GOP and can also win in most non-presidential years by just being true to their rhetoric (small gov’t, fiscal responsibility, etc). Because they have such a large ID (41%).

However that won’t always be the case and Frum knows it, but instead of talking about why moderates and center-right people should become more active and start taking principled stands against right wingers, he says why conservatives should change.

I don’t think conservatives are going to change (well on social stuff I think they will but only because of time). I think the only way to help the GOP is to actually start working for moderates instead of continuing to just be a critic of the right. When you have valid conservative reasons for things, use them and if they are moderate than own that too. You need to tell why your vision is better than any Democratic vision.

For instance I tend to be a paleo when it comes to foreign policy, there is a long tradition of it in the party, I don’t have to take being called a liberal dove, their the ones that have used a Wilsonian foreign policy to get us in two unending wars and erosion of our civil liberties.

The moderates and moderate-conservatives need to man up as they all say these days, stop blaming conservatives for all the problems, stop being afraid of the RINO call. It’s conservatives that are RINO’s because they only care about the conservative movement and not the party. I guess I just tend to agree with the Douthat/Salem way (even if I don’t agree with their book) give reasons to change the party, not changing ideology.

I think Bubbaquimby is right on.  I think the problem here is that people like Frum (and I have to count myself in this mix)tend take on too big of a task in reforming conservatism and not simply the party.  Conservatism is made up a big institutions such as think tanks and media organizations which have been built up over the last four decades or so.  It is a hard to task to try to change institutions that have in effect become ossified.  Such tasks lead to disillusionment.

But maybe we need to focus on a smaller task and start looking at setting up new institutions that can provide an alternative vision.  What if there were new think tanks and media sources that provided a new vision within the GOP?  What if we stopped focusing on Sarah Palin for a moment and start working on getting credible people to run in the GOP for state and national offices. 

Bubbaquimby is right: those of us who fashion ourselves as dissidents need to “man up” and stop whining about what conservatives are doing wrong.  We aren’t going to change them, but we can change the party.

It’s time to quite complaining and start building.

The Myth of John McCain

There was a time in my life when I loved John McCain.

I saw him as the bulwark against the rise of the far right in the Republican Party. I cheered his every move. His stand against the Bush Tax Cuts. His participation in the so called “Gang of 14.” His strong environmental record. He seemingly strong stand on gay rights.

And then, little by little, I started falling out of love with McCain. As 2008 drew near, he started changing his positions on issues. By 2008 he started to look like someone that had sold out for the GOP nomination.

I don’t really know how many times, I’ve heard people talk about how John McCain has changed and how they have grown to hate the Senator from Arizona. The media, which really fell hard for McCain in 2000, has turned against him and can’t wait for a moment to report the latest infraction. In the eyes of many, John McCain sold his soul and many of his former followers are saying “good riddance.”

But did we really know who John McCain was? Did we see a few actions and imagined that he had to be “just like us” only find out that he wasn’t? Did John McCain really change? Continue reading

Missing (and Proving) the Point

David Brooks column today is a good one, but it has already stirred a bit of ire from some libertarians who in some way prove his point. The column is about how we are not as hardy thinkers as we used to be, not allowing for any thought that just might upset our mental applecarts. Here’s a taste:

The ensuing mental flabbiness is most evident in politics. Many conservatives declare that Barack Obama is a Muslim because it feels so good to say so. Many liberals would never ask themselves why they were so wrong about the surge in Iraq while George Bush was so right. The question is too uncomfortable.

There’s a seller’s market in ideologies that gives people a chance to feel victimized. There’s a rigidity to political debate. Issues like tax cuts and the size of government, which should be shaped by circumstances (often it’s good to cut taxes; sometimes it’s necessary to raise them), are now treated as inflexible tests of tribal purity.

It’s a worthwhile read because what Brooks is getting at is that we are less willing these days to really use our brains and think about the beliefs we hold in a critical light. Instead, we want our beliefs to be confrimed, we want to have the feeling that we are always right and that we never have to change a thing.

As if on cue, Matt Welch replies with a snarky post calling Brooks a lover of big government. He takes Brooks quote on the issue of taxes and the size of government, and makes it sound like Brooks is saying that any talk about free markets is bad and any talk of government (as well as higher spending and higher taxes) is good:

So after a decade of hysterical growth of government at all levels, which has left us with a crappy and unimproving economy, unprecedented debt and deficits, and a long-term fiscal outlook too horrifying to contemplate, it is a demonstration of confirmation bias, herd thinking, and inflexible tribal purity to question the continued growth of the state. I sure do hope that David Brooks is good enough to let us know when it’s okay to come outside and criticize big government again. Though judging by his track record–whether 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008, or 2010–it may be a long time coming.

I think this is a rather unfair assessment.  Brooks isn’t saying that we should never question government spending.  Anyone that has read Brooks over the years know that he tends to favor smaller government.  But he is saying to both those that favor smaller government and those that favor larger government that they need to step out of their ideological cocoons sometime.

And that is the problem with our political discourse these days.  On the conservative-libertarian side, there seems to be only one answer for everything: Government is always too big, it needs to be smaller.  Okay, I get that and tend to favor that.  But the problem is that it becomes the answer to things people aren’t asking.  When it comes to things like the economy or housing or economic development, sometimes saying “let the market handle it” is not always sufficient.  So how can the government have a role that doesn’t make it expand greatly or raise taxes?  Now that would mean using your grey matter.  But too many people don’t actually want to think, lest they be branded as a traitor by their compatriots.

The same goes for liberals who think the government can solve everything and should regulate everything.  As E.D. Kain noted a while back, regulation can at times, lead to oligarchies that keep out smaller businesses.  Because of government regulation, niche breweries were shut out of the American market for years until President Carter deregulated the industry in the late 70s.  But again, we don’t want to think outside of the box at times; we don’t want to be accused being capitalists.

What Brooks has long advocated, and what I have agreed with, is that government has to be both small and active.  It has to be willing to provide some leadership to society issues, even if it is not the one that provides the answer.  Small government is great, but it is of no use if it is inefficient and not able to help when people do need it. 

It doesn’t take much a brain to advocate for ever bigger government or to whack all government programs.  It does take thought in how to provide the government services needed and not expand government.

When America is able to get out its ideological cul-de-sacs, the we will become a more functional society again.

Frum was Right: It’s our Waterloo

David Frum, a conservative columnist who needs no introduction to those of us who have been arguing for some time that embracing any and all aspects of extreme right wing politics whether it be extreme social conservative or libertarian conservative views, has been offering a stinging rebuke of the far-right in the last few days.

This healthcare fight, as he says, did bring us to a “Waterloo moment”.  One that he believes is politically disastrous for the Republican Party in the long-term even if not in the short term, although maybe even that is now threatened.  A few weeks ago it had seemed that the Tea Party movement had gained such an advantage over the entire debate that healthcare would not be passed and their prime goal of destroying the Presidents entire agenda for the remainder of his presidency would be achieved.  Such a political loss would then propel conservatives and especially hardcore, antigovernment conservatives back into a long term power to balance out the president and even potentially challenge him for the Presidency itself.  All that had come into question on Sunday and David Frum realizes this.  Some of us predicted early on that possibly the 2006 and 2008 elections would lead the party even further right, and that is exactly where it headed.  While it seemed for a time a viable option the only outcome has been a complete and dramatic failure, even if many provisions within the bill itself were of Republican origin such as the individual mandate and no public option.

The steadfast resolve and “stay the course” attitude that the party has taken has effectively led them over a cliff on this one, not even being able to own the ideas that the democrats had taken and made their own with many cases of, in fact, rejecting those very same ideas in order to court the Tea Party activists.  It was a zero-sum game that the Republican Party embraced, rejecting all forms of compromise and realization of their own place as a minority party for an angry, hate-filled, obstructionist fueled message.  It was a movement built upon fear, not one of ideas unless you consider saying “no” to any and all active government efforts to reform broken market systems as an idea.  In doing so the party has let the virulent element that IS the Tea Party to take control of the party apparatus by using fear itself to a point where even in defeat it still lacks the ability to do what is necessary and drop the fringe.  This was a loss that, even if the Republicans win back the house in the coming elections, will hurt the party’s ability to truly win in the future elections.  By being a solid block of “no” even when many of their own past republican ideas of healthcare were included is not a stand of principle, it is a stand for irresponsible governance and failure.  Zero-Sum.  Waterloo.  It sure as hell turned out that way, didn’t it.

A Republican Waterloo

David Frum lets conservatives and Republicans have it for their intransigence during the health care debate:

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

I totally agree. GOP leadership can huff and puff all they like, but they aren’t going muster any votes to take away something that has been given to them. It’s a nice issue to stir up the passions of the base for the next few years, but let’s face it: this legislation is here to stay.

Sure, conservatives and Republicans might have their revenge in November and pick up a few seats-something that will make the hardliners feel good- but in the end, this is victory for the Democrats. We will end up with a bill that will be in effect long after the leading GOP leaders have left Washington.

Ross Douthat has made fun of moderate Republicans in the past for basically becoming the accountants of the welfare state– allowing Democrats to have their big government programs, but making sure these plans were fiscally sound. What would have happened had the party allowed Olympia Snowe to help work out a deal that would have made health care reform more fiscally sustainable? What if an Orrin Hatch (who is not a moderate) or Bob Bennett had been able to force a tax on so-called “Cadillac Plans” that would help fund the deal and also lead to some meaningful reform on costs?

We will never know because the leadership made damn sure no Republican cooperated. I think in the long run, this will be the GOP’s Waterloo, a big spectacular loss. We can’t see it now, but give it five or ten years.

We lost this one, big time.

Another Take on the Tea Parties

In what seems to be a long running series on the Tea Party movement here at RU, blogger Jazz Shaw of the Moderate Voice shares his latest encounter with the movement. Here’s a sample:

Early on, I was also taken in by a lot of the media hype and found many of my preconceived notions being challenged. I’ve been spending my time this year working on a Congressional campaign which keeps me on the road quite a bit with my candidate, hitting all of the usual stops as well as some ventures into unknown territory. Many of these events are the same old song and dance. I don’t wish to put too cynical of a face on things, but there are plenty of groups out there where you know in advance which points you need to hit. The pro-life groups want to know you’ve checked the right box on your application. Gun owners and sportsmen clubs need to see that you’re up to date on the Heller decision. But when we started receiving invitations to address some tea party meetings I got nervous.

My immediate reaction was to insist that we didn’t send out any invitations to the press. I’d seen all of the provocative video clips from MSNBC and CNN, along with the blaring headlines at Huffington Post. My mind filled with images of pitchfork wielding townsmen carrying around signs with nooses, swastikas and allegations of secret communist plots. “Good Lord!” I thought. “This election is going to be hard enough. The last thing I need is a picture showing up in our local paper of my candidate hanging around with a bunch of Klansmen.”

I’ve now met with more than a dozen groups in both Upstate New York and Pennsylvania, and my suspicions have been almost unanimously confounded rather than confirmed. We’ve been greeted by surprisingly large groups of citizens who were polite and obviously very well informed on the issues of the day which concern them. The tone has been far more energized and excited than hysterical. And any expectations of a friendly, conservative base reception were quickly dismissed. They asked questions – very tough questions in many cases – and listened patiently to the answers.

It’s another reminder that the Tea Party movement is a lot harder to pigeonhole than people think.

The Young Conservative Doth Protest too Much?

I find it interesting that every time that I want to think that American conservatism is going down the tubes, something happens that gives me a spot of hope.

There was a lot of news made when the Conservative Political Action Conference allowed the John Birch Society to have a presence at the event. But another group was also allowed that might make some heads turn. GOProud, a gay conservative group which happened to split off from Log Cabin Republicans about a year ago, was welcomed to CPAC as well. Of course, that didn’t please some folks. Ryan Sorba, a young man with a big chip on his shoulder, spoke out against GOProud and against homosexuality in general. You might expect that there were would a lot of cheers from the crowd, but that wasn’t really what happened:

It’s nice to hear that there were people at CPAC who rose to GOProud’s defense. It’s a reminder that not all is lost with American conservatism.

You might also want to read openly gay conservative Alex Knepper’s meeting with Ryan Sorba. It’s a hoot.

So, Just How Crazy Are Republicans?

The blogosphere has been abuzz with the recent poll by Daily Kos/Research 2000 that points a not so favorable view of the Republican Party.  The way the poll looks it gives a picture a party filled with bigoted know-nothings.

This poll has bothered me for a lot of reasons.  As a gay Republican who is a moderate, it felt like yet another slam against the party that makes one wonder why one should stay.  It has also bothered me because I know a lot of Republicans and none of them seem as crazy as this poll suggests. Continue reading