Tag Archives: TEA Party

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.

The Ryan Budget

These days, I tend to get a little intimidated by all the super-smart bloggers who can spew all these facts and stats when it comes to budgetary issues.  So, I’m never going to be the next Ezra Klein or Tyler Cowen, but I can at least give a basic layman’s view on Paul Ryan’s plan on the budget.

At first glance, I think it’s pretty good.  One of my chief complaints with Republicans is that they either don’t have a realistic budgetary plan or most of their plans are just slash and burn without any purpose.  Ryan’s plan does have a lot of slashing of budgets, but I think he at least tries to keep the safety net somewhat intact.  For those on the Left like Klein and E.D. Kain, anything that changes the current understandings of social programs like Medicare and Medicaid is basically throwing the old and the poor on the street.  I don’t think it has to be that way.  I think some of the criticism about privatising Medicare by giving people vouchers is valid (it doesn’t at least on the surface try to rein in costs).  That said, it is a starting point and it’s good to see a Republican come up with an innovative idea.  I also think that while Ryan is willing to “go there” when it comes to entitlements, folks like Kain are correct in saying that the military also needs to be reigned in. 

Which leads me to a side issue.  David Brooks notes in his column today that America needs to re-envision its welfare state.  The system we have in place for the most part has been the system we have had for 50-70 years.  We are pushing the limits of the old welfare state model.  It’s becoming unsustainable.  This means that we have to create a new social contract that can carry this nation forward.  I think Ryan’s proposals are a good starting point.

That said, we also need to take a good look at what some call the “warfare state.”  Our defense needs are based on what those needs were back in the 1950s.  The Cold War with the Russians has been over with for 20 years and we need to design a military for our current world.  That means a smaller footprint around the world when it comes to bases and troops and that means cuts.  The world still needs the United States to take part in military action when called for, but we can’t do it with a military designed for the “Red Dawn” era.

So that’s my simple take on the Ryan plan.  I’d like to hear others viewpoints.

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.

What’s So Good About the Tea Party?

Earlier this week, Ross Douthat, back from a February fast from blogging, shared what he thought were some of the more positive characteristics of the Tea Party:

 The most pungent, attention-grabbing liberal critique of the Tea Parties was that they were either racist reactionaries fomenting violent insurrection, or else the hapless dupes of plutocratic puppetmasters. But the more plausible liberal critique was that the movement’s supporters weren’t actually serious about the issues they claimed to care about the most. Sure, liberals allowed, Tea Partiers said that they cared about runaway government spending, but polls showed that most of them actually felt more strongly about tax cuts than real fiscal discipline, and believed that the deficit could be pared back without touching Medicare or Social Security or defense. Likewise, Tea Partiers claimed to care about individual liberty, but polls showed that their opinions weren’t any closer to real civil libertarianism than those of the average Bush-era Republican. Citing this data, more than a few liberals suggested that the dirty secret of the Tea Partiers was that they were just Bush-era Republicans, rebranded and equipped with newfound populist zeal, but otherwise identical to the right-wing constituency that had accepted Bush’s deficit spending and expansions of the national security state without a peep. (This Jonathan Chait post from a week ago gives the flavor of this argument.) Which meant, presumably, that the movement’s promises of a more fiscally-responsible and libertarian G.O.P. were so much sound and fury, and what we should really expect from Tea Party Republicanism was more of the same: A notional commitment to limited government and individual liberty, joined to a practical politics of deficit-financed tax cuts, defense sector bloat, and Medicare demagoguery.

But here we are, a couple months into the new G.O.P. era, and the party’s Congressional leadership has formally committed itself to providing a blueprint for entitlement reform, the immense political risks notwithstanding. At the same time, while Ron Paul-style libertarianism is hardly ascendant in the Republican Party, it’s more in evidence than at any point in the Bush era: You’ve had surprising Republican votes to delay reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act, a Republican backbencher revolt that killed the F-35 engine and — most importantly, perhaps, for right-wing libertarianism’s long-term prospects — Rand Paul’s emergence as the Republican version of Russ Feingold, making the case for civil liberties in an often-inhospitable environment.

Mike at the Big Stick agrees with Douthat’s assessment and adds this:

The Tea Party is a conservative movement and thus supporting conservative candidates and challenging moderate Republicans. Essentially they are pulling most of the GOP rightward on fiscal policy (which is what so many of us have wanted for nearly two decades). The only question mark is whether or not they can remain enough of a solid voting block to keep the GOP there until something real is accomplished. The worst thing they could do is to lose the fear factor. To that end I would love to see them support a couple fiscally conservative Democrats in 2012 against fiscally moderate Republicans. A move like that would help them maintain their clout and keep Republican incumbents on their toes.

Of course, it’s not a surprise that I don’t share Ross or Mike’s enthusiasm for the Tea Party.  I don’ t think they’re a bunch of racist reactionaries, but I don’t think they are a bunch freewheeling, pot-smoking Gary Johnson lovers either. 

I also think it’s too early to be giving the Tea Party plaudits for their budget acumen.  Yes, there are plans to deal with entitlements, but we haven’t heard of them yet, and most of the cuts they have made have are on the smallest part of the federal budget, discretionary spending.  This is hardly courageous and it tends to affect only constituencies that don’t usually support the GOP, the young and the poor.  If we are going to tackle something like the deficit and live within our means, we are going to have to “make everybody hurt.”  Here, columnist David Brooks shows what the GOP has done in DC:

In Washington, the Republicans who designed the cuts for this fiscal year seemed to have done no serious policy evaluation. They excused the elderly and directed cuts at anything else they could easily reach. Under their budget, financing for early-childhood programs would fall off a cliff. Tens of thousands of kids, maybe hundreds of thousands, would have their slots eliminated midyear.

In short, the GOP went after the low hanging fruit.  Hardly a way to get to fiscal responsibility.

The GOP talks a good game about tackling the deficit.  But in the end, they aren’t any more willing to make the hard choices on federal spending than the Democrats.

And I haven’t even talked about the Tea Party,  party diversity and social conservatism.

The Center Cannot Hold

Solomon Kleinsmith links to an article by Major Garrett about the decline of centrists in Washington.  It’s actually the summation of a longer article in the National Journal about how the two political parties in Congress have grown more and more apart.

Not that long ago, Washington used to be a place full of individual, and individualistic, lawmakers who were both capable and willing to defy party labels and the party orthodoxy to make things happen. That was also a world, paradoxically, where party infrastructure mattered more; a place and time when local, state, and national party machinery exerted at least some influence over candidate selection, fundraising, endorsements, and field operations. The irony is that in that era of greater party influence, lawmakers acted less predictably and with less partisan zeal.

National Journal‘s vote ratings in 1982 found, to cite just one example, 60 senators who could credibly be described as operating in the ideological middle. Back then, 36 Democrats and 24 Republicans voted in ways that put them between the most liberal Senate Republican, Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, and the most conservative Democrat, Edward Zorinsky of Nebraska. The number of those in the broad middle in the House was 344. The ideological poles were defined by liberal Republican Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island and conservative Democrat Larry McDonald of Georgia.

Garrett goes on to explain that political parties don’t have the power they once had.  This in turn has led to lawmakers becoming independent contractors that tend to be more robotically partisan.

Garrett is right to a point, but where I disagree is the rise of outside groups that have basically taken over the process that political parties once had.  Last year in Delaware, it was the GOP establishment that thought that moderate Republican Mike Castle would have the best shot at gaining the Senate seat that had been occupied by Vice President Joe Biden.  But the Tea Party was able to put forth Christine O’Donnell and through legwork and fundraising was able to beat Castle.

What has changed is that party bosses knew they lay of the land and was able to pick candidates that fit the locale.  The outside groups are not as concerned with what candidate can win in Massachusetts as opposed to Texas.  They want more ideological conformity and will pay good money for it.

Political parties of decades past were designed more for the masses.  In the days when there were only three major networks, the political parties had to welcome people from various walks of life.  This meant that there had to be more cooperation and compromise.  But in an age of Facebook, where people can tailor their experiences so that they only hear what they want to hear, cooperation becomes more impossible.

As we look at the ongoing mess in Wisconsin, I have to wonder if such a scene would have existed 30 years ago.  Listening to all the rhetoric on both sides, you get the sense that neither side listens to the other.  Both sides see the other as a threat to all that is good and true about America, instead someone to talk to and maybe come to a compromise.

So, how are we going to solve some of the major problems coming down the pike when we can’t talk to each other?  And can organizations like No Labels turn things around?

See Mitch Run?

David Brooks sends some love to a certain Midwestern governor:

On Feb. 11, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana met with a group of college students. According to The Yale Daily News, he told them that there is an “excellent chance” he will not run for president. Then he mounted the podium at the Conservative Political Action Conference and delivered one of the best Republican speeches in recent decades.

This is the G.O.P. quandary. The man who would be the party’s strongest candidate for the presidency is seriously thinking about not running. The country could use a serious, competent manager, which Governor Daniels has been, and still he’s thinking about not running. The historic moment calls for someone who can restrain debt while still helping government efficiently perform its duties. Daniels has spent his whole career preparing for this kind of moment, and still he’s thinking about not running.

Or so Daniels says.  While my heart leans towards a Huntsman or Johnson, Daniels is the candidate of the mind, one that can bring together Tea Party-type conservatives as well as those that might be outside the GOP tent.  I think the GOP is in need of someone that’s not a bombthrower (see Walker, Scott) and that can put for the a more intelligent and disciplined conservatism.

Unions=Tea Party

Will Wilkinson:

There’s something about the union demonstrations in Madison, and the excitement it has caused on the left, that reminds me of the Tea Party. I think I’ve figured it out what it is. The advent of the labor movement is at the heart of the left’s sacred creation myth. The sense on the left that unions are under siege gives them something to fight for with a bracing sense of historically-rooted identity and moral authority. Similarly, the sense on the right that America’s foundational values are under siege gave the Tea Party something to fight for with a bracing sense of historically-rooted identity and moral authority. Of course, the Tea Party has about as much to do with the values of the American founding as John Adams has to do with Raytheon, and public-sector unionism has about as much to do with preventing worker exploitation as Eugene Debs has to do with unfireable $100,000 a year public-school teachers. But it’s nice to have a team, and a noble lineage, and to get out there and really give the bastards who are stealing our country hell.

Assault on the Middle Class?

E.D. Kain thinks that the current mess in Wisconsin is proof a sustained assault on the Middle Class by conservatives and libertarians:

So why does Wisconsin matter? Because this is a pivotal battle in that fight. What happens in Wisconsin could be a bellwether for things to come. If Walker wins, expect other like-minded governors to attempt the same thing, and many of them will likely win. If he loses, organized labor may have bought itself a bit more time. But the new class war will continue. Unless the public narrative can be recaptured from the Tea Party and the austerity now crowd we won’t see it end. Unless Democrats wake up to this threat, the party itself could be undone.

Now Erik has clearly picked a side in this debate.  I think personally, he is missing the larger picture that people like Chris Ladd are picking up on; that we changing from a society where there was something like “labor” to a society of entrepenuers.

That doesn’t mean that I think folks like the Tea Party have the answer, but does it mean that they want to weaken the Middle Class to favor the rich?

I’m interested in everyone’s ideas and opinions on this matter.

Stop Making Sense

The fallout from the shooting of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others on Saturday has been both fascinating and frustrating to watch. 

It’s been fascinating because the gun barrels had yet to grow cold when people starting pointing fingers and assigning blame.  It’s frustrating because we seem to be more interested in blame than in stopping for a moment and simply mourning the loss of life.

Since Saturday, everyone has been trying to offer some explaination about what happened.  The one issue that keeps coming up again and again is the tone of political rhetoric in our daily disc0urse.  The more nakedly partisan among us dig up maps used by Sarah Palin and point to the former governor and the larger conservative movement as the problem.  The less partisan bring up calls for more civility.  More than one fellow pastor has called for our political speech to be more charitable.

All of the folks in question swear up and down that such speech is not what killed six people and injured 13 others, but in reality, that is exactly what they are saying.  They are saying inflamed speech, such as the use of crosshairs on an ad by a certain former Alsakan governor, is what lead to the massacre in Tuscon.

But the reality is, we really don’t know why Jared Loughner decided to open fire at a Safeway.  We have a lot of odd writings that don’t seem to make sense.  On Saturday, James Fallows admitted that many an assasin has shot someone for motives that really had nothing to do with anything:

– Leo Ryan, the first (and, we hope, still the only) Representative to be killed in the line of duty, was gunned down in Guyana in 1978 for an investigation of the Jim Jones/Jonestown cult, not any “normal” political issue.
– Sirhan Sirhan horribly transformed American politics by killing Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, but Sirhan’s political causes had little or nothing to do with what RFK stood for to most Americans.

– So too with Arthur Bremer, who tried to kill George C. Wallace in 1972 and left him paralyzed.

– The only known reason for John Hinckley’s shooting of Ronald Reagan involves Jodie Foster.

– It’s not often remembered now, but Manson family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to shoot Gerald Ford, again for reasons that would mean nothing to most Americans of that time.

– When Harry Truman was shot at (and a policeman was killed) on the sidewalk outside the White Blair House, the attackers were concerned not about Cold War policies or Truman’s strategy in Korea but about Puerto Rican independence.

– The assassinations of William McKinley and James Garfield were also “political” but not in a way that matched the main politics of that time. The list could go on.

And Ross Douthat’s  Monday column shows that the assisnation of John F. Kennedy was not due to the anti-Democratic climate in Dallas at the time:

When John F. Kennedy visited Dallas in November of 1963, Texas was awash in right-wing anger — over perceived cold-war betrayals, over desegregation, over the perfidies of liberalism in general. Adlai Stevenson, then ambassador to the U.N., had been spit on during his visit to the city earlier that fall. The week of Kennedy’s arrival, leaflets circulated in Dallas bearing the president’s photograph and the words “Wanted For Treason.”

But Lee Harvey Oswald was not a right-winger, not a John Bircher, not a segregationist. Instead, he was a Marxist of sorts (albeit one disillusioned by his experiences in Soviet Russia), an activist on behalf of Castro’s Cuba, and a man whose previous plot had been aimed at a far-right ex-general named Edwin Walker. The anti-Kennedy excesses of Texas conservatives were real enough, but the president’s assassin acted on a far more obscure set of motivations.

I think part of the reason there has been all this talk about cooling our political speech is because we want to find some answer for this tragedy.  We want to make sense of the horror.  What better way to make sense of this all than to pin the blame on something or someone else?

But can we really blame it on inflammatory speech?  Crosshairs aside, was anybody really calling for the assasination of Representative Giffords?  And if the culprit is speech, then how in the world do you “cool down” down the rhetoric?  Is this simply a moral problem that can be solved by faith communities or is it something that requires the state to take part?

People are trying hard to find a way to pin a villian, usually a villian that people already don’t like.  It makes this horror easier to understand to our anxious hearts.  But I think the awesome reality is that we don’t understand what is going on.  We want to, but  we don’t.  There is no easy answer to this situation. 

And that scares us.  Because if there is no easy answer, then it means that life can be random, that sometimes things happen for no discernable reason.  We want there to be an easy reason for endangering the life of a public servant and for killing a nine-year-old whose only crime was going to this event to learn more about government.

There is no real way to make sense of this tragedy and I wish others would stop trying to do so. 

What I wish we would do is what Daniel Hernandez did.  Hernandez is an intern at Giffords’ office and after the Congresswoman was shot on Saturday, he stayed by her side and applied bandages to her wounds.  Many people think he might have saved her life.

Instead of pontificating and seeking easy answers, I think we need to simply stand by the side of the hurting.  As blogger Michael Kruse says, we need to be able to grieve and comfort those who mourn.   

The book of Job is a biblical account of a man who goes through immense suffering.  He loses everything- including his children and is visited by his three friends.  Later on, the three friends try to offer reasons for Job’s sufferings, which were never much helpful.  At the beginning, though, they met with Job and just sat with him. 

Sometimes, in times of tragedy, nothing needs to be said.  We just need to sit, mourn and pray for those lost.  We don’t have to make sense of everything.

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?