Tag Archives: moderates

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.

Scott Brown vs. Tea Party

Scott Brown was elected to the Senate last year as a darling of the Tea Party.  Since then, they haven’t been that pleased with him because he turned out to be far moderate than they expected ( a moderate Republican from Massachusetts?  Who would have thought?)

He’s certainly not going to get love from the Tea Party for his latest act: blasting the GOP leadership and by extension, the Tea Party for “irresponsible cuts” that will hurt the poor.  Here’s some of what he said in a letter and also on the Senate floor:

Since the beginning of the 112th Congress, the House and Senate have been seeking common ground to finish the appropriations work for FY 2011.  Sadly, rather than reaching a workable, bi-partisan solution to responsibly address our staggering deficit, we are repeatedly given a false choice between CR proposals that either don’t go far enough to reduce federal spending and proposals that set the wrong priorities that would disproportionately affect low-income families and seniors, while doing little to address critical, long-term issues…

Our collective work begins by having a clear understanding of the seriousness of our budget crisis and what is at stake if we fail to address it.  We can all agree that we simply cannot continue on this reckless, unsustainable course.  Reducing and eliminating needless spending and programs are appropriate, but a wholesale reduction in spending, without considering economic, cultural, and social impacts is simply irresponsible. We must also be mindful that many of the proposed spending reductions would disproportionately affect the neediest among us, including housing and heating assistance.  Likewise, some of the proposed cuts would be economically counterproductive, negatively impacting our ability to innovate and invest in research and development.

Deficit reduction is a necessary goal for our country.  But deficit reduction should not be achieved in isolation of our priorities as a government and a society.  I believe that responsible and meaningful bi-partisan support must be found and forged if we are to achieve long-term fiscal stability.  I intend to be a part of the discussions and the solutions for how to move our country forward, without eliminating programs that are successful, cost-effective, or critical to the livelihood of the neediest among us.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky responded by paying homage to the Tea Party and their “fiscal bravery:”

“[T]hanks to ordinary Americans like these speaking their minds and advocating for common sense reforms, I’m increasingly confident we’ll get our fiscal house in order,” McConnell said of the tea party movement. “Republicans are determined to do our part.”

But none of what the Tea Party or the GOP leadership is advocating is common sense, not by a long shot.  Instead of tackling the big movers of the deficit: defense and entitlement programs, conservatives have made a big deal of cutting discretionary programs, which make up only 12 percent of the budget.  That’s not bravery, it’s cowardice and cynicism.
Brown is correct that the cuts offered hurt the neediest in our society more than anyone else.  This isn’t even about balancing the budget on the backs of the poor as the Left claims, it’s just cutting something just for the hell of it.
If Republicans want to tackle the deficit then they need to go after programs that the middle class enjoy (hello mortgage interest deduction).  We need to tackle Medicare and Social Security.  But of course, dealing with those would be bring the wrath of the middle classes, especially those Tea Partiers who want to cut programs for the poor, but doesn’t want Washington to touch their Medicare.
Brown will no doubt catch hell for his stand, but he continues to get my praise and support.

On RINO Hunts, Ctd.

Bruce Gilson, who has, ahem, more experience when it comes to living, has this response to my earlier post on RINO Hunts:

I don’t think Riley’s type of thing is really new. The tension between extremist and moderate Republicans has been going on since 1964 at least (remember Barry Goldwater’s “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And … moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” in his acceptance speech). Even the “RINO” designation applied by extremists to moderates is decades old by now. One has to accept that there are some who cannot accept that the Republican Party is not ideologically homogeneous, and work around them. (emphasis mine)

Bruce makes a strong note here.  It’s easy to think that the rise of extremists within the GOP is some recent phenomenon, but the tension between the two wings of the party has been there for at least 50 years if not more.  I’ve read articles from the 1980s where this was still an issue back then. The extremists have always been like the schoolyard bully who threaten the timid moderate.  The problem is that moderates never really try to stand up to the bully.  We whine about the bully and talk about how unfair it is to be bullied, but we never face them down. 

Politics is always going to be rough game.  Moderates have to learn to fight back and stand up for themselves.  The world doesn’t care about whiners.

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.

Pre-judging Mitch Daniels

Alex Knapp is not so impressed with Mitch Daniels:

Looking at the Republican field for 2012, I’m more than a little disheartened that the most prudent and fiscally conservative contender for the Republican nomination is Mitch Daniels.

The same Mitch Daniels who, as director of OMB, oversaw a federal budget that went from a $236 billion suprlus to a $400 billion deficit.

The same Mitch Daniels who stated that the cost of the Iraq War would be “only about $50-60 billion.” (Actual cost to date — over $800 billion and climbing.)

Ugh.

Now, I’ll be fair. I’m only now starting to look at Mitch Daniels. I haven’t had a chance to review his record as Governor. Maybe it’s an improvement.

But in the past few weeks I’ve heard him bandied about as the “fiscally conservative” candidate, and I have to say the first time I heard that, I laughed.

I find his criticism mean-spirited and ignorant.  He never bothered to check Daniel’s record as governor, something Daniels has been doing for about seven years, he bases his opinion on the few years he was OMB Director for President Bush.  I mean, all he had to do was look up Daniels via Google to get some more info.

If you want to judge Daniels on his fiscal conservatism, fine.  But at least have the decency to judge his whole record and not just selective bits.

What an idiot.

Why the GOP Needs Centrists

A lot has happened since the blogger known as the Moderate Republican wrote this back in 2009.  Scott Brown added to the number of New England moderate Republicans and the GOP won back the house and won increased numbers in the Senate on the strength of the Tea Party movement. 

So here is the question for you all this weekend: is this essay still true?  Does the GOP need to change to be more appealing to centrists, or can it win by being more ideologically pure?

This is what the Moderate Republican said in 2009:

If you talk to a large number of average, everyday people you will find they do not fit into the ideological boxes that many political activists like to put them in. There are such things as pro-life liberals and environmentalist conservatives. Talk to enough people and you will see evangelicals who think the government should offer universal health care, and left-leaning teachers who think school choice is the best option to fix schools. This is where the political fight is. How can Republicans make a convincing case to this vast and fertile middle ground in America?

Discuss.

More on Christine O’Donnell and the End of the Delware GOP

Doug Mataconis:

Delaware is a Blue State and it’s likely to be one for a long time, but there was a time when it did produce Republicans who were capable of winning statewide. Not just Mike Castle, but guys like William Roth and Pete duPont. Thanks to the damage that the party suffered in 2010, it’s going to be a long time before Delaware produces a candidate like that again.

The point here isn’t to kick Christine O’Donnell yet again, but to point out that there are consequences to nominating a candidate who has no realistic chance of winning a General Election. Not only do you lose the race itself, but you hurt your party in down ticket races.

The GOP could have taken the Senate had they ran more credible candidates in states like Delaware.  Indeed, the GOP establishment had supported a capable candidate in Mike Castle, but the Tea Party had other ideas and took a candidate that had a chance out of the running.

Which leads to this question: how does a party learn to control its more purist elements?  How can a party please its base and also reach beyond it?

Another Case for Jon Huntsman

Taylor Marsh:

The thing is that Republicans know Barack Obama is vulnerable in ‘12, but they’ve got no one in their roster right now who can come close to doing the job. There’s an opening, with whoever it is that takes on Obama needing to be a heavyweight in order to win. Ambassador Huntsman fits that description, plus has the resume and stature that the gang of Tea Party politicians trying to grab for the lowest rung simply cannot match. However, Huntsman won’t be a favorite among the feverish primary crowd, with no one yet able to explain what happens with Sarah if she doesn’t run and who’ll get her nod if she doesn’t, because it will matter. At least he’s a deficit hawk.

Jon Huntsman Returns

Ever since President Obama named former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China, many people thought that the moderate Republican was taken out of the running for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

Not so fast.

Newsweek has a long article on Huntsman and the chances that he might run next year after all.  McKay Coppins, the article’s author, notes that “the cable new crowd” would dismiss a Huntsman candidacy and like Pavlov’s dog, some major pundits started pooh-poohing a Huntsman run.  First up, James Fallows:

Huntsman is part of the Obama Administration. He is right in the middle of dealings with America’s most important foreign-policy partner/challenge. So in the GOP Primaries, how exactly is he going to out-anti-Obama anyone else in the field, given that he has served Obama (and, yes, the country) so loyally? The retorts from all the other Republicans are almost too easy. “If Ambassssadorrr Huntsman is so concerned about the Obama threat to America, then why,…?”

And if he got through that process, he would run against his current commander-in-chief …. how? And why? What is the issue of principle so important that it compels him to challenge Obama’s continuation in office, but has not justified any disagreement while he’s serving now? “Huntsman 2016” would be a very logical inference from his current position. “Huntsman 2012” would require suspension of basic laws of politics and common sense.

Then there’s Matt Yglesias. He tends to think there is something to be said about running even if the outcome might mean losing:

“The Manchurian Candidate” is an excellent headline for an article about the hypothetical presidential campaign of an ambassador to China. So on those grounds alone I think you have to run with the story. Second, I do think that if you look at the history of Republican presidential nominees there’s something to be said for getting in the game and running even if the time isn’t right. Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, and John McCain all ran and lost before they got the nomination.

Fallows isn’t totally off that having a former Obama official run in the GOP primaries in 2012 is a suicide mission.  So why would Huntsman run in 2012?  Back to the Newsweek article:

The cable-news crowd will undoubtedly scoff at Huntsman’s prospects in a Republican primary. After a right-wing resurgence flooded Congress with Tea Party Republicans, the field doesn’t appear particularly inviting to a moderate Obama appointee. But an increasingly vocal segment of the GOP is worried that the conservative populism of 2010 is distracting the party from its more pressing priorities. “We may be confusing a clearing in the forest for being out of the woods,” says Republican strategist John Weaver, who notes young voters’ disapproval of some of the party’s social agenda. “There is a ticking demographic time bomb working against us, and if we don’t correct that problem very soon, we could wind up back where we were four years ago.” What the party needs now, argue supporters like Weaver, is a leader who can negotiate a treaty of sorts between the right-wing base and forward-thinking moderates. The GOP, in other words, needs an ambassador.

So, the idea here is not as much to win, but to provide a voice within the GOP that’s not the Tea Party.  Does that make sense?

I think it might.  Back in 1976, conservative Ronald Reagan ran against President Gerald Ford in the primary.  Ford was the standard bearer for the moderates in the party. Reagan’s insurgent campaign didn’t beat Ford, but it did leave him in a weakened position going into the general election and it also laid the groundwork for Reagan’s winning campaign in 1980.  The reality is that Huntsman is a better 2016 candidate than he would be a 2012 candidate.  But if the campaign is about ideas and leading on movement within the GOP he could lose in the primaries and yet lay the foundation for a winning campaign that would be more David Cameron-like when it comes to social issues and the environment and be fiscally conservative and pro-business.

As for the he-worked-for-Obama charge, well the fact is it will hurt him in 2012, but the fact is it will hurt him in 2016 as well.  There are always going to be folks that will rule out any Republican that even smiles at a Democrat.  I think the issue at hand is how to present better ideas than your former boss.  It’s all about making lemons out of lemonade.

If Huntsman and Mitch Daniels and Gary Johnson consider running next year, it might be a good year for moderates in the GOP.