Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why I Don't Like Romney

Gay rights, tax cuts, gun control: Over and over in this campaign, Romney’s convenient changes of heart—whether in his actual policy positions or just in the way he talks about issues—have been well-documented. On literally every subject in which he was vulnerable to criticism from conservatives, Romney shifted his attitudes before entering the campaign, meaning he has never been in position—as McCain has often been—to have to defend an unpopular view.

And he authored a brand new chapter last night, proclaiming that Ronald Reagan would “absolutely” endorse him if the former President were still alive. Of course, when Reagan actually was alive, Romney was running around Massachusetts assuring voters that “I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush.”
-from the New York Observer

The funny thing is conservative blowhards are condeming McCain for his unorthodox views and yet Romney, who seemed to have a Damascus Road experience and became a social conservative gets a pass.

Romney's willingness to say anything to please the base and to never defend a position is nothing short of pure cowardice in my view. I don't care that Romney is a Mormon. That I have no problem with. It's his integrity or lack thereof, that I have a problem with.

It's a shame, because before his many flip-flops when he was still a moderate, I would have considered him.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Walk, Don't Run to the Exits

I think most of us know that at some point in the very near future, the US will start drawing down troops in Iraq. Come March we will have been in Iraq for five years. Five years.

We know that any draw down won't happen under the current President. Unlike his father, who was able to go to war and bring the troops home, the son hasn't or won't find an exit strategy for our troops.

The unknown is how we get out. Will we have a gradual withdrawl of troops, or will it be immediate? And what will be the political costs back home?

Jonathan Rauch has a good article that talks about the how best to leave Iraq. His concern is what happens if, as it is exceedingly possible, the Dems take the White House and hold on to Congress:

Then the Democrats will have a decision to make: Withdraw as quickly as possible, on party-line congressional votes? Or withdraw more slowly, at a pace that can command sizable support among Republicans—say, a majority or near-majority of them?

In short, can they not do what the Republicans did with the initial invasion: make it a partisan issue? Rauch explains one possible way the Democrats could handle leaving Iraq:

In 2009, a Democratic president might say something like this: “Every year of this administration, America will reduce its troop strength in Iraq. The downward path is nonnegotiable and ironclad. But the pace is not. If Iraqis try sincerely and strenuously to keep their country together, or if they decentralize enough to keep the peace, and if they produce results, we will help them, including militarily. If not, we’ll pull out much faster.” This is not unlike what Joe Biden has said, both as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as a Democratic presidential candidate. It implies a faster withdrawal than Bush Republicans prefer, but a slower one than dovish Democrats demand. And my guess is that many, if not most, Republicans would go for it.

Republican hard-liners, of course, might prefer demagoguery. But grown-up Republicans would recognize that withdrawal is inevitable; they would want to be relevant; they would feel battered by the election results, and tired of incurring the public’s wrath; they would face intense pressure not to sabotage a new commander in chief who could claim the public mandate.

A Democratic President could be face with a wonderful opportunity: to help bring the nation together after 8 years of fierce partisanship. It wouldn't be something everyone would want, but it would be a way to leave carefully, which is not what we did going into Iraq.

Of course, the problem is going to be the Hard Left. They want out of Iraq yesterday and don't really care much about the consequences. A Democratic President might be made to feel that he or she owes their win to the MoveOn crowd which sees Iraq in partisan terms. If a Dem President did that, Rauch thinks the results would be disasterous, not simply for the Democrats, but for the nation as a whole:

So far in the primary campaign, Democratic presidential candidates have had a hard time keeping the door open for any American forces to stay in Iraq. If the Democrats sweep the board this year, doves will say that the public has spoken and wants change. Why in the world should they pace the withdrawal from Iraq at a rate that suits the losing party?

Yet if the Democrats were to rush for the exit with Republicans unified against them, they would be blamed by Republicans for whatever subsequent disasters befell Iraq and, for that matter, the whole disaster-prone Middle East. For years, they would face charges of having “cut and run,” which could reinvigorate the debilitating stereotype of Democratic weakness. On the other hand, a policy with significant two-party support would be less contentious, more sustainable, and thus more likely to succeed. Running the whole government, Democrats would need to care about succeeding.

Ruach concludes that any President is going to have find a way to leave Iraq and leave our country intact. Would a President Obama that has spoken about unity, be willing to work with Republicans on a pull out that will do the least harm in Iraq and help bring the country together? What would a President Clinton do?

I have no idea, but I do think we need to think long and hard about how to best leave. As I've said before, it was a mistake to rush in; it will be a mistake to rush out.

Friday, January 11, 2008

McCain and the Future of the GOP

The GOP is in trouble.

Yeah, I know, what's new? Aside from stating the obvious, the GOP is not the "party of tomorrow." It hasn't been for a long time. It has been so focused on trying to raise Ronald Reagan from the dead, that it has forgotten that times have changed.

Take tax cuts. When Reagan came into office in the 80s, the tax rates were crazy. Over time, they have come down considerably. The fact is, Republicans were sucessful. The problem is, conservatives started seeing tax cuts as the answer to all that ails us. But times have changed. People are no longer worried about Washington grabbing more and more money from us, they are concerned about health care and rising gas prices- and they know a simple tax cut isn't going to solve it.

Then there is the shrinking GOP base. Reagan was willing to open the door to a whole bunch of people who had never thought about being Republican. Not many changed, but I would gather that his message attracted many an independent and Democrat which is why he served two terms. Today, the party seems to think the GOP can win on the backs of the religious right and the Club for Growth crowd. The rise of "Tancredoism" has alienated Hispanic voters. If elections are won and lost by creating coalitions, then the GOP is making sure it won't win the next few elections.

The GOP needs to change. It has to provide an competent asnswer to pressing issues and so far, they haven't bothered to do that, except a few people...among them, John McCain.

I've supported McCain in the past, and then fell out of "love" with him for some of his social stands. But as time went on, I have come to seem him, not only as the one who can be a credible candidate for President, but one that could help expand the GOP and being about needed change in the party. As one writer notes, McCain seems to be the only GOP candidate that is courting Independents, while the others try to please the ever-shrinking GOP base.

The Republican party isn't headed for extinction, but if it doesn't really take on economic issues, if it doesn't care about expanding it's base, we can get used to Democratic dominance for quite some time.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

"Yes We Can"

In the summer of 1980 I, along with my very Democratic mother watched the Republican National Convention which was being held nearby Detroit. I remember hearing the nomination speech given by Ronald Reagan. His words were stirring-stirring enough to have my mother reacting positively. She never voted for Reagan, but I can say that on that summer evening nearly 30 years ago, my mother was moved by this Republican's words.

I am wondering if we are seeing this again. I will admit, I have knocked Barak Obama. And I've been called on it. I do wonder if he is too green for the job. After dealing with a President with little experience, I am a bit hesitant to give another person with a thin resume a shot at the job.

However, there is something different about Obama. He has a charisma that is infectious and can move this moderate Republican in a way no Democrat has. I just listened to the Senator's speech in New Hampshire tonight and he made me feel like my Mom did all those years ago.

Some have said that Obama doesn't simply want to win: he wants to change the nation if not the world. I'm beginning to believe them. I also think he wants people to come along regardless of who they are. Andrew Sullivan is also noticing the Reagan-Obama connection:

Reagan was the cutting edge of the last realignment in American politics. With a good-natured, civil appeal to Democrats who felt abandoned by their own party under Jimmy Carter, Reagan revolutionised the reach of his own party.

He didn’t aim for a mere plurality, as Bill Clinton did. Nor did he try for a polarising 51% strategy, as George W Bush has done. He ran as a national candidate, in search of a national mandate, a proud Republican who nonetheless wanted Democrats to vote for him.

He came out of a period in which Americans had become sickened by the incompetence of their own government. Reagan shocked America’s elites by pivoting that discontent into a victory in 1980. And by his second term, he won 49 out of 50 states.

You can see the same potential in Obama. What has long been remarkable to me is how this liberal politician fails to alienate conservatives. In fact, many like him a great deal. His calm and reasoned demeanour, his crisp style, his refusal to engage in racial identity politics: these appeal to disaffected Republicans.

He is particularly attractive to those on the American right who feel betrayed by the Bush administration’s version of conservatism, just as many Democrats felt betrayed by Jimmy Carter’s liberalism.

I don't know if Obama has that reach; but it's looking damn close.

I think what sets this guy apart from Clinton's caution, or Edward's anger is that he is, like Reagan very optimistic about America. Like it or not, we Americans are an incredibly hopeful people, and when someone taps into our hopes, you can expect that person will win handily.

Another rap against Obama, one that I have used myself is that his record isn't that "independent." I think Alan Stewart Carl sums it up best:

A trip to the Obama website is the kind of in-depth-to-the-point-of-tedium experience you expect from any wonky Democratic website. There are plans upon plans upon plans. The Democrats, even with all their sub-species, are essentially the party that believes in the efficacy of national government. There isn’t a problem in the world that can’t be solved through federal power, and Obama’s policies do not deviate from that predilection.

Of course, a tendency towards statism does not mean Obama isn’t an independent at heart. After all, without evidence that he is deceiving us, we must assume the senator is sincere in his desire to bridge the political divides. Still, the vast majority of his policies are tried-and-true Democratic initiatives...

All the candidates talk about reforming government, but Obama’s website is the most passionate and most specific about changing the way government works. He has numerous governmental transparency initiatives which would illuminate the flow of money through our system. He wants political contributions documented and shared. He wants citizens to be able to see where federal dollars end up and who directed them there. Simply put, he wants accountability through transparency and he would use Internet technology to ensure anyone and everyone can see the money flow.

If you can categorize “independents” at all (a tricky task to be sure), you’d probably give them two qualifications. 1) a preference for new ideas that come from outside the usual party politics; and 2) a desire to reform politics and government as usual. Obama really doesn’t appeal to the first but he’s right in line on the second. Add to that his stated commitment to reinstating PAYGO, and I can see why independents are responding to his message.

It’s not that Obama is overflowing with new ideas, it’s that he’s promising responsibility at a level not offered or at least not accentuated by any other Democrat. In effect, he's saying: we’re going to do this the right way rather than continuing the closed-doors, backroom handshake system. After eight years of Bush’s hyper-secrecy and the previous eight years of Clinton’s equivocations, the promise of a new era of government disclosure and responsibility is truly alluring.

Obama is a liberal Democrat, there is no question. But what is interesting is that he doesn't use his ideology to exclude or belittle people. It is who is, and he will no doubt enact liberal policies. However, he also seems interested in getting all Americans on board, regardless of who they are. Reagan was a conservative Republican, but his rhetoric made people feel that they were included in his vision for America.

Maybe as centrists we need to stop expecting some "Centrist Messiah" who will split the difference, but instead look for someone who has a vision. Reagan had this and it seems like Obama does as well.

I'm a McCain man, but I do have respect for the Senator from Illinois.