Friday, May 29, 2009

A Puerto Rican Republican's Take on Sotomayor

As someone who has an African American father and Puerto Rican mother, the selection of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic justice on the US Supreme Court is something that fills this puertorriqueño with a bit of pride, even if he probably won't agree with every ruling she makes.

As the GOP gets ready for the confirmation hearings, I have this to say as a Republican:

Leave her alone.

There are few reasons I am offering this advice. President Obama probably picked the most dangerous person to bench...for Republicans. He picked a woman and he picked a Hispanic, the two groups that the GOP has just a wee bit of a problem attracting. That hasn't stopped conservatives from trying to rally the base and start going after Sotomayor. But maybe one would want to listen to Peggy Noonan:

Some, and they are idiots, look at Judge Sotomayor and say: attack, attack, kill. A conservative activist told the New York Times, "We need to brand her." Another told me a fight is needed to excite the base.

Excite the base? How about excite a moderate, or interest an independent? How about gain the attention of people who aren't already on your side?

The base is plenty excited already, as you know if you've ever read a comment thread on a conservative blog. Comment-thread conservatives, like their mirror-image warriors on the left ("Worst person in the woooorrrlllddd!") are perpetually agitated, permanently enraged. They don't need to be revved, they're already revved. Newt Gingrich twitters that Judge Sotomayor is a racist. Does anyone believe that? He should rest his dancing thumbs, stop trying to position himself as the choice and voice of the base in 2012, and think.

So, if the GOP decides to listen to people like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich and call her a "racist" and what have you, you might as well kiss those two groups goodbye come 2010. The Republicans can ill afford to make themselves not only look like fools on the national stage, but sexist and racist to boot.

Thankfully, there are those that realize that we can't win this fight. Texas Senator John Cornyn had the courage to stand up to Limbaugh and Gingrich and said their attacks on Sotomayor were wrong. Of course, he's the guy that is trying to get more Republicans in the Senate come 2010. Being responsible for trying to right a sinking ship surely focuses the mind.

Yes, I know some Republicans will say that Democrats have been nasty to court appointees under Republican presidents. Witness for example, how Democrats treated what could have been the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court, Miguel Estrada.

All well and good. I agree that the Dems treated Estrada shamefully. But the fact is, even if it was unfair, the general public doesn't know or care about that. All they will see is a bunch of mostly white guys beating up on a middle-aged Puerto Rican woman. Yeah, it's unfair, but no one cares. The Dems could block a Hispanic and get away with it, but the GOP fairly or unfairly can't. Those are the rules.

Does this mean that the GOP should just roll over? Of course not. The Senate is the place to get to know this person and her judicial philosophy. Ask questions (politely). Probe what are her beliefs. Just don't turn this into some kind of interrogation to gin up support for far right, because that will be a death wish.

I did say there was another reason which is more basic and it's this: the president, regardless of party, should be able to pick who they want as a Justice. Elections have consequences and one of the perks of being a president is to pick whomever they want on the nation's highest court. If the other party doesn't like it, well that's why they have presidential elections every four years.

So, that's my message. The GOP should take heed if it doesn't want to slide farther into oblivion.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Quote of the Day:Meet the New Voice of the GOP!

This quote is a few weeks old, but it still carries heft:

A decorated four-star general has no place in the Republican Party ...

A decorated hero with thirty years in the Senate has no place in the Republican Party ...

And his mother, who held what the Navy calls its "toughest job" for forty years -i.e., Navy Wife- has no place in the Republican Party.

... so say the party's new spokesmen, a draft dodger and a drug addict.

I hope the V.F.W. and the A.L. are paying attention.

Is "Dealergate" a Real Concern?

The conservative blogosphere is abuzz with news that many of the Chrysler dealerships that were ordered to be closed, were owned by big GOP contributors. Only one store that gave to Obama was closed.

Are there legs to this story? Well, it wouldn't surprise me if there were partisan shenanigans, but I also wonder if people are trying to see a pattern where none exists.

In the end, though, I have to wonder if this is an issue we should be worrying about when there are bigger fish to fry.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mixed Feelings on the California Ruling

I have some mixed feelings on the ruling by the California Supreme Court to uphold the voter approved ban on gay marriage. It would have been nice to see the law overturned- I think it is a bad law and bigoted.

Be that as it may, I didn't feel comfortable with the idea of invalidating a vote of the people even if it is bigoted and went against my wishes as a gay man. The thing is, people voted on this issue. They heard all the sides and a majority voted...against gay marriage. Maybe I'm naive or maybe I'm not a good homosexual, but I believe the vote of the people have to be respected- even if I disagree with it. The most basic act in a democratic society is to be able to vote in an election. It was something that my ancestors were not able to do because of their color. And maybe it is because of that, I have a hard time basically telling voters that their vote doesn't count because the vote was less than desirable by people like me.

One of the lines of arguments that comes from supporters of gay marriage is that an election should not be used when deciding on human rights. That might make some sense, but then should any voting body be used?

I want to see gay marriage legal in California. Heck, I want to see it everywhere. But I think in this case, gay marriage supporters are going have to go back to the drawing board and try to educate and legislate for change. That's the way democracy works.

Monday, May 25, 2009

An Open Letter to Colin Powell

Editor's note: Hopefully Mr. Powell will listen to this.

Dear Mr. Powell,

You probably have not been getting a whole lot of emails from Republicans thanking you for your words as of late, but I want to be one of the few Republicans that says thanks. I am glad that you are staying in the GOP and telling those who want to make lists of who is in and who is out to stop being so exclusive and narrow-minded.

You are one of the reasons I became a Republican. It's hard to find many African Americans who are Republicans, and here you were, an example of a black man that worked hard, and served his country in so many different ways. I knew that if someone like you could call yourself a Republican, than I knew I could.

That said, I do have some concerns with your recent statements. It's not that I don't appreciate them- I do. But I feel that those of us that want a more inclusive GOP have to do more than talk about it on blogs or Sunday Morning talk shows. We have to actually get involved in trying to change the party.

I think Bruce Bartlett puts it best when he states the following:

..if Powell is going to make a point of staying in a party that doesn’t particularly want him—former Vice President Dick Cheney has more or less told him to leave—then Powell has a responsibility to do more than give the occasional television interview criticizing the GOP’s lack of inclusiveness; he needs to engage it on a systematic basis.

Powell has to accept that he is in a unique position to command attention and lead the Republican Party—or at least that part of it that isn’t consumed with defending the indefensible on torture or living in a fantasy world where the economy would be booming today if it just wasn’t for Obama’s budget deficits. It’s a pretty small constituency these days—most of those, like me, who share Powell’s views have left his party to become independents—but it may be enough to build a foundation on that can offer a meaningful challenge to the dominant Cheney-Limbaugh-Palin wing of the Republican Party that views all efforts to expand its membership as a sell-out to be resisted at all cost, even if it means further political losses.

Those words might seem a bit harsh to hear, but I have to say that Mr. Bartlett's words carry more than a grain of truth. The fact is, people like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney are deciding who gets to be in the GOP. People like you and I are thought of as Republicans in Name Only. We have to be willing to tell people why we belong in this party and take on the bullies who want us out.

But Mr. Bartlett is asking you to go beyond a few words on a Sunday morning show. Because of who you are, you carry a certain amount of weight. Your words in Boston and later on television are giving moderates a real voice. Voices are important. You are giving voice to millions of moderates both within and without the GOP who wish the party were more of a center-right party than a right-wing party.

But I think now you have to take the next step: use your voice to stir up a movement of change within the GOP.

It's important that you help revive the moderate wing in the party. In a recent blog post, I noted there needs to be a centrist GOP infrastructure ala the Democratic Leadership Council. You could use your expertise and voice to help form new groups that would make the moderate voice stronger and willing to take on the extremist elements in the GOP. You could also create strong PACs that would help elect moderate Republican candidates for office.

The fact is, you have a lot of power, Mr. Powell. I applaud you for what you are doing now, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done. We need you to be the soldier again and lead us to battle. If this party is as important to you as you say it is, then please respond to the call.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

On Building a Centrist Republican Infrastructure

The May 14th issue of the Economist had another article on what ails the Republican Party and how it can be rejuvenated. The article stresses the importance of the GOP in being a center-right party again, but it also has something to say about those centrists:

The first lesson from the Democrats is to create a “vital centre”—one that is a source of ideas rather than split-the-difference compromises. The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) has been challenging old-fashioned liberalism since 1985. DLC-affiliated politicians have been designing centrist ideas in conservative America for almost as long: Kathleen Sebelius, Barack Obama’s health secretary, Janet Napolitano, the head of his Department of Homeland Security, and Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, cut their political teeth in Kansas, Arizona and Arkansas respectively. At the same time, Mr Obama has made a huge fuss about embracing anybody and everybody.

One of the problems that I along with others had about the compromise stimulus package put together by the then 3 Senate moderate Republicans was that it was basically a "split-the-difference" kind of deal. It was devoid of any ideas. (Not that the conservatives in the GOP were brimming with ideas.) The Economist is calling for a more hefty and vibrant center that has not really been a part of the GOP for quite some time.

The Economist continues talking about what is needed from GOP Centrists:

The Republicans are showing some signs that they understand the importance of the centre ground. They are cooing about their success in recruiting Charlie Crist, Florida’s middle-of-the-road governor, to run for the Senate, for example. But the Republican centre is very far from being vital. Most centrist politicians are opportunists rather than policy innovators. The party’s leading think-tanks are all on the right. The first priority should be to create a Republican version of the DLC, to act as a counterbalance to Washington’s conservative establishment and an inspiration to innovative Republicans across the country.

It's that last sentence that is important. What the writer is calling for is the creation of a new Republican infastructure, one that in some ways challenges the more conservative infastructure that was built in the 70s and 80s.

When I talk about political infrastructure, I am talking about the fact that political movements are not created by one charismatic person, but by an organic network. Magazines, blogs, think tanks, political action committees, these are some of the things that make a movement. The modern conservative movement did not just appear someday. It came into being because of think tanks like American Enterprise and the Heritage Foundation; magazines, like the National Review and the Weekly Standard and political action committees like GOPAC.

As the writer notes, the Democratic Leadership Council came into being as think tank, an engine for centrist Democrats that produced ideas for these "New Democrats." These centrists were not simple opportunists, wishing to split the difference, but centrists that were principled and brimming with ideas. In Britian, the Tory Reform Group has long been the engine for so-called "Wet" Conservatives, providing ideas for centrists British Conservatives.

When one looks at the Centrist Republican infrastructure, it is weak. Currently, there are no journals of Centrist GOP opinion ala the Weekly Standard. There are very few blogs written by Centrist Republicans and few megablogs like RedState or Powerline. There are organizations like the Republican Leadership Council, but again, they tend to be weak and not as effective in carrying the centrist GOP banner. The Ripon Society was started in the 1960s as a moderate GOP think tank, but does not seem to be as engaged as say the American Enterprise Institute. I can say they are two political action committees that are trying to raise money for centrist GOP candidates, the Tuesday Group PAC and the Republican Mainstreet Partnership PAC, but they have not been widely promoted.

If there is to be a vital center in the GOP, it will have to be built by centrists. Folks like Michael Steele are not going to do it.

I think there needs to be more resources put into creating a centrist conservative infrastructure. Monies need to go to creating effective center-right think tanks and magazines filled with new and innovative ideas.

And there need to be more centrist Republican bloggers. I've seen enough centrist Republicans on Facebook to know that some of them could start blogging and sharing their thoughts. Speaking as a centrist Republican blogger, it is lonely out here.

It's time to start building the new GOP, because it ain't gonna build itself.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Why A GOP Blowout Might Be A Good Thing

The blogosphere is chatting about former McCain and now former Huntsman advisor John Weaver's fears a 2012 GOP Blowout if the party's guiding lights are Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney.

There is a lot of talk that if the party doesn't start appealing to moderates soon, 2012 is going to be bloody.

That prospect used to bother me, but I'm beginning to wonder if that's not a bad thing. Let me explain.

As Ross Douthat explained a few weeks ago in his case that Dick Cheney should have ran in 2008, I am beginning to think that maybe we should let the Limbaugh wing have its way for a few years.

That wing of the party has spent the last few years blaming others for the Republican Party's problems. In 2006 and 2008, it was that George Bush was not a true conservative because of his big spending. Or it was that the Republican-controlled Congress was seduced by the tempting ways of Washington. In 2008, they said McCain was a moderate. They look at the losses in the past elections and think the problem was that the party was "too liberal."

They refuse to listen to the data which says the GOP is losing support. They brand anyone that thinks it's okay to have civil unions or thinks the environment might be an issue, a Republican in Name Only or RINO. The brush off concerns that the party must be allowed to run more moderate candidates in blue states and pick off the moderates that are in office.

This far right wing has wanted to run the show in the party and I am sorely tempted to say, "It's all yours." Let them select candidates for Congress that will go down to defeat. Let them select a Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin, candidates who have no chance in hell in winning in 2012.

The thing is, after such a devastating loss, ala Mondale and the Democrats in 1984, the far right will have no one else to blame. They could no longer live in denial that they only need to be "more conservative." Maybe, just maybe, they would finally know that they need help and that the party needs to change.

Maybe. We will see in 3 years. Hopefully, it won't be too late.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why John Huntsman Jumped

Upon hearing that Utah Governor John Huntsman was taking Obama's offer to become Ambassador to China, I was saddened. Huntsman was a conservative that didn't live in the GOP echo chamber and could see the change that needed to happen in the Republican Party if it is to be viable force in the age of Obama. He was for civil unions for gays, and was pro-environment. He was considered the one candidate that the Obama team was afraid they would face come 2012. As Andrew Sullivan has noted, he was the "un-Cheney."

Which of course, meant that the current base of the GOP was never going to go for him. I don't know if I agree as much that Obama co-opted Huntsman as much as it was Huntsman realizing that now is not the time to consider running for higher office. A few weeks ago, Huntsman went to my home state of Michigan which seemed like an obvious attempt to test the waters for a presidential run. As David Frum notes the reception was far from friendly. The Republican Party of Kent County, which contains the state's second largest city, Grand Rapids, canceled an event with the Utah Governor because of his support for civil unions.

Grand Rapids and indeed, much of Western Michigan, is considered a GOP stronghold. If Huntsman could not get a hearing in the town that was once represented by Gerald Ford, he wasn't going to get far.

The thing is, the way the party is structured now, Huntsman would have to contort himself in order to be a viable candidate. Rudy Giuliani, who is considered a moderate Republican, had to drop his socially liberal views during the 2008 campaign. John McCain, a conservative more or less like Huntsman, had to also make himself more in the mold of the far right to be at least acceptable to them and then had to accept a less than stellar running mate because she was a social conservative.

I think the way the party is constructed now meant that Huntsman would have to have done the same thing. The Limbaugh wing of the party of sinking ship, but they are still the king. My guess is that after the debacle in Michigan, Huntsman decided to say "nuts to that" and take the post in Beijing. Dealing with the Chinese is far easier than dealing with Sean Hannity.

Obama's gain is the GOP's loss....again.

Friday, May 15, 2009

When the Good is the Enemy of the Perfect

The base of the Republican Party is making a clear message: only candidates that fit our criteria can run for office.

Senator John Cornyn, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is hardly moderate Republican. However, as head of the group that helps get Republicans elected, his goal to get more Republicans in the Senate. Since the Republicans are about a senator short of losing filibuster power, Cornyn is more than willing to be pragmatic in who they are willing to support in the upcoming mid-terms in 2010. Cornyn supported Flordia Governor Charlie Crist in his bid to replace Mel Martinez in the Senate next year.

That has not pleased the purists in the GOP. Real Republican Majority notes that groups and bloggers on the far right are not pleased with Cornyn's willingness to support moderates and are calling for a boycott of the NRSC. This is what Real Real Republican Majority has to say about the whole issue:

Today, it appears that RedState is
answering Daily Kos’s plea for help. RedState, a conservative blog that touches
on a number of issues, including some that RRM agrees on and others we don’t,
has asked its readers and members to boycott donating to the National Republican
Senatorial Committee until Sen. John Cornyn (TX) steps down. Their reasoning is
that the NRSC is supporting primary candidates, such as Florida Governor Charlie
Crist, and had supported Senator Arlen Specter when he was still a member of the
GOP over former Rep. Pat Toomey.

The NRSC has had a long policy of supporting incumbents over challengers,
which Cornyn reiterated while being asked about Toomey's challenge before the
Specter switch. However, RedState seems to be far more upset that Crist is being
supported by the NRSC over Marco Rubio, the former FL House Speaker who is much
more extremist in his views. RedState is charging that Crist is “abandoning his
Governor’s seat to Democrats”- to challenging Rubio, who is a “rising Republican
star” (Crist being an established, popular Republican star).

The post by Dan McLuaghlin at RedState is one that seems to take place in some alternate reality, where true conservatives, who could win, you know, are being shut out by feckless moderates:

Moderate Republicans can complain all they want about the Pat Toomey primary challenge to Arlen Specter, but make no mistake: in this race, it’s the moderate picking a fight to muscle out a conservative in a state where there is no serious question that conservatives have won and can continue to win races statewide...

...John Cornyn has proven that he has learned absolutely nothing from the fiasco of 2006, when the GOP lost close Senate races elsewhere after pouring millions into a primary race to prop up Lincoln Chaffee. You don’t cannibalize key offices like the Florida Governorship to recruit candidates, and you certainly don’t do so to poke a stick in the eye of the party’s base by creating a contested primary against a rising star who appeals to a crucial demograpic. It’s a loser move all around.

Again with the we-lost-because-we-weren't-conservative-enough and the we-conservatives-are-the-victims memes. Let's point out some facts. As David Jenkins has shown, folks like Pat Toomey, the former head of Club for Growth, has had a history of going after moderates in primaries and either leaving them too weak to win the general or picking them off in the primary and then having the more conservative candidate go down in a ball of fire to the Democratic candidate. McLaughlin says that the NRSC wasted money in supporting Linc Chafee in his reelection bid in 2006. But McLaughlin forgot to mention something. Jenkins explains:

In 2006, the Club strongly backed Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey’s primary run for the Rhode Island Senate seat held by then-Senator Lincoln Chafee. The bloody primary battle depleted Chafee’s campaign coffers and increased his negatives, enabling Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse to eke out a victory.

Regardless of how much conservatives were annoyed by the moderate to liberal Chafee, the reality is that a less moderate Republican would have virtually no chance to capture that seat. A recent survey by Gallup found Rhode Island to be the most pro-Democrat state in the nation, with Democrat and Democrat-leaning voters holding a 37 percent advantage.

If the NRSC wasted money, it was because they had to pour more money to help someone who had a chance of winning win a primary against someone that didn't have a snowball's chance in hell to win a such a blue state.

As for Rubio, it's a big gamble to run as conservative in a state that gave Obama 51% of the vote. It might work in Texas, but not necessarily in Florida.

But then, the purists don't care. They believe that somewhere out there the silent majority will rise up and vote for a purist Republican. But that's living in a fantasy world. In the end, the GOP has to be about winning elections and tailoring their message in certain region of the country. One size doesn't fit all.

One last thing: it appears that Club for Growth is sending some love to Marco Rubio. The Democrats must be in heaven over this.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party

Candace Straight and Susan Bevan, the Co-Chairs of Republican Majority for Choice wrote a strong op-ed at the Huffington Post calling for the GOP to be more tolerant to moderates. In it, they call on party leaders to take a look at who won in elections last November:

The Republican leadership must look to see who in their Party is winning -- both elections and new voters. Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine both won their last elections with 61% and 72% of the voter respectively. Representatives Lynn Jenkins of Kansas and Leonard Lance of New Jersey are two freshman members of Congress -- people who won in one of the most dismal election cycles for the GOP. Though they may not agree with every moderate voter, or even each other on every issue, these leaders govern with the big-tent, limited-government ideals in mind. And they win.

Straight and Bevan also think that the new group led by Eric Cantor, National Council for a New America is not going to bring the needed change the Republicans need:

Earlier this month, the GOP leadership announced the National Council for a New America -- a softer, gentler GOP that wants to hear new ideas and bring in coalitions of voters. However, the group's leading spokespeople are all white, socially conservative men. These are not the faces of "new ideas" that will help draw in a more diverse voting base.

A day earlier, Jim DePeso, the policy director for Republicans for Environmental Protection wrote in the environmental site, the Daily Green, that the GOP must either consider welcoming all who want to be part of the GOP or wither and die:

Remember the Whigs? No? The what-me-worry Republicans who value division over inclusion ought to read up on what happened to America's previous conservative party. Don't think that what happened to the Whigs couldn't happen again.

You might also want to read a post by Patrick Ruffini of the Next Right where he sees a place for moderates in the GOP.

Both op-eds are saying what many have said for quite a while: that the GOP needs to be more inclusive of folks like myself, who are socially liberal, but tend to be conservative on fiscal and national security issues.

But that said, moderates also need to be more willing to demand their place in the Big Tent and not wait for an invite.

Last March, I went to my local GOP caucus (here in Minnesota we use the caucus instead of the primary for the Presidential candidates). What was interesting was the amount of Ron Paul supporters who were there. In many places throughout the state, those Ron Paul people came out in force. I remember seeing a young guy and his wife looking over the state GOP platform and were surprised at what they saw. They immediately started writing changes to the platform. Many have started to show up on local committees of the GOP. Now, there is a lot that I don't agree with when it comes to Mr. Paul and his supporters, but I have to hand it to them, they understood what politics was all about. They had their agenda and they stuck to it. This is of course, how the far right took over the party years ago.

What would happen in moderate conservatives started showing up in force at county conventions, getting elected to local GOP committees and the platform committee? It would show that this party was truly their party and they were going to fight for it.

Scott Payne, over at League of Ordinary Gentlemen, wondered a loud in a post recently, why moderate conservatives tend to pick flight over fight. It's a good question, of which I have no answer. But I can say, that we can't afford to wait until the GOP leadership gets a clue and stops getting advice from Rush Limbuagh.

I would like to see more disgruntled Republicans get off the sidelines and get into the battle. It time for moderates to claim their place in the party and fight for your right to party.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

On Being a "Moderate" Republican

A few days ago, Mike over at The Big Stick, responded to an earlier post I made about "Why Moderate Republicans Matter." He responded and I wanted to tackle some of his points.

First as to his use of the word "moderate." Mike has expressed his distaste for the word, and did so using a Martin Luther King quote:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

After sharing that quote from the civil rights leader, he then shares his own words on the matter:

If there is a more damning case against ‘moderation’ I haven’t heard it. When I think ‘moderate’ I also think of inaction, fear and apathy. I think of someone whose primary goal is to not rock the boat and let change happen at a snail’s pace. From what I know of Dennis, none of those words can be applied to him. He is a guy who is trying hard to move us forward. So in my mind, even though I know he means something else, he is no moderate.

Now, words are not always the best descriptors of who someone is. Words are always inprecise. But it all that we have at times, so you have to make do with what you have.

The word moderate can have the meaning that Mike is suggesting: someone that is wishy-washy and really has no principles. But there are several meanings to this word and what meaning a person chooses, matters. According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, there are six meanings of the adjective moderate and these include three that are important to this discussion:

  • 1 a: avoiding extremes of behavior or expression : observing reasonable limits b: calm, temperate

The third one is obvious: someone who doesn't have extreme beliefs. The second one lines up more with Mike's thinking, especially the second subset which talks of "having average or less than average quality." The word, "mediocre" is the exclaimation point of that meaning.

I am choosing the first one as what I mean by "moderate:" avoiding extremes in behavior and expression. But while they don't tend to be "radicals" in the popular sense, these are not the milquetoast persons that Dr. King was describing. One would do well to read the long list of biographies by Geoffrey Kabaservice on moderate Republicans. You would find someone like Thomas Kuchel, who led the fight for civil rights. That's hardly the "lukewarm" approach that Mike despises.

Moderate doesn't have to equal lukewarm, or coward. One can be a person of deep conviction and be considered a moderate.

The second issue here is Mike's issue of the fear of Centrists or Moderates having too much power over legislation since they make deals. Making compromises means ignoring what could be a better idea and instead fighting for it.

Okay, but that is basically the position we have now. In these days of polarized politics, we have sides that think their way is the better way. One side tries to block their other until nothing really gets done. It happened in 1994 with health care and in 2005 with Social Security among others. Maybe that's music to the ears of libertarians, but for those of us that want Washington to tackle various issues, it just leaves us frustrated. In earlier times, we were able to get landmark civil rights and evironmental legislation passed because of moderates who worked accross party lines.

It's the final part of Mike's post that is the part that bothers me the most. He suggests a better label for me:

For someone like Dennis who I believe is highly principled and inclined towards liberal positions at times, perhaps the label that is most fitting is ‘Independent’. My wife calls herself an Independent and for her the label is very fitting. She takes pretty conservative opinions on some issues and pretty liberal positions on others. Still on others she’s downright libertarian. Being an Independent doesn’t mean you have to look for the compromise position. You can cherry pick your issues and no one says a word. Of course the downside is that there are very few elected Independents in our government today.

I have a few issues with this.

First is that fact that I take issue with those who use that label. More often than not, they tend to be truly liberals or conservatives, but for whatever reason chose not to disclose their political persuasion. Far too often, I have seen or heard someone that stated they were an independent, but their speech reveals who they really are. There are a few true independents out there, but for the most part, the ones that I have met, just refuse to own up to their true nature.

Second, while being an independent sounds tempting and definitely an easier path for me, it is in the end, a poor choice. Being an independent affords no power. Since you don't belong to either party, you are not able to truly bend a political party to your will. The other thing is that more often than not, politicians tend to appeal to independents during elections with nice moderates words, then once they are in office appeal to their bases which of course, did all the heavy work in getting them to office. Indpendents tend to end up not getting what they wanted, because they are not actively involved in the process beyond voting. And in politics, you have to do a lot more than just vote.

But maybe the thing that bothers me the most is that for me, being an independent is the easy path. I don't have to worry about some crazy far right person calling me a traitor or not a real Republican. But in someways, again, in my own view, that is no better than the version of "moderates" that Mike doesn't like; someone who chooses an easy path instead of the narrow one.

The fact is, I became a Republican for a lot of reasons. It's the "family" I chose. I may not fit everybody's definition of a Republican these days, but then that's part of the problem, isn't it? We have narrowed who truly belongs in the party. I personally believe that the GOP should be a broad church kind of party, one that accepts different types of conservatives. As Joe Scarborough notes, we need to redefine conservatism and remember that a conservative is one that believes in what Edmund Burke preached: restraint, custom and convention.

So, I'm not leaving the party. I'm staying and will continue to be a moderate Republican. It's up to others to see what moderate really means.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

What Color is the Sky in Your World, Huck?

Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee is smart guy. I mean that. He had a fairly good record as governor of Arkansas.

But that said, when it comes to the future of the GOP, he doesn't know what he is talking about.

Recently he has stated that the Republican Party should not "moderate." If they do, they will be as vital as the Whigs.

"Throw the social conservatives the pro-life, pro-family people overboard and the Republican party will be as irrelevant as the Whigs," he said in reference to the American political party that largely disbanded in the mid 1800s.

I find it interesting that everytime someone talks about the party being more accepting of moderates, social conservatives start thinking that we are asking them to leave the party. No one is saying that. If they want to run social conservatives in areas that are socially conservative, then let them. But you can't run a pro-life, anti-gay marriage, anti-stem cell research person in areas like the Northeast, Upper Midwest and the West. It just won't work.

The following paragraph is killer:

"They'll basically be a party of gray-haired old men sitting around the country club puffing cigars, sipping brandy and wondering whatever happened to the country. That will be the end of the party."

Funny, but the party is pretty much already looking like a bunch of grey haired men. They are just sitting in a church instead of in a country club.

I think more and more, others are starting to see that such a hard-line social conservatism isn't going to fly anymore. Relying on it to the extend that we have, has damaged the party.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Life, Death and Life of Moderate Republicans?

In the wake of Arlen Specter's defection to the Democrats, we've heard a lot about the death of moderate Republicans, especially the sterotypical Northeastern Republican. CNN, did an "autopsy" of the lamented "liberal Republican."

But then on the same day, I read an article in Politico, where John Cornyn, the GOP Senator from Texas and Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee is working to recruit "Specter-like" candidates in different parts of the country. We also read that two moderate Republican canididates won local elections in Alexandria, Virginia in what could be a future strategy for the GOP to use in urban areas.

So, what's going on here? Are moderate Republicans a dying breed, or are they just sleeping?


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Why Moderate Republicans Matter, Revisited

Yesterday's post was primarily a response to why Ross Douthat's snarky dismissal of New England or Rockefeller Republicans was off base. Using a column by Ross' workmate at the New York Times, David Brooks, I offered that moderate Republicans are not opportunists as they are bearers of an old tradition in the GOP, one that makes the case for a civic-minded conservatism.

Today, I want to talk a bit about why moderate Republicans matter electorally using a post by Noah Millman of the blog American Scene. In that post, he opines that if we basically brush off the sterotypical New England Republican, we can basically kiss that region goodbye and kiss the chances of being a national party:

The “New Democrats” and “neoliberals” that Ross refers to were concerned with many things, from questions of policy to questions of marketing, but one of the key things they were concerned with was being competitive nationally, and particularly in the South, the region that was most dramatically trending in a Republican direction. Leading lights included Tennessee Senator Al Gore and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. The “Super-Tuesday” primary was designed for the 1988 election to insure that the nominee was acceptable to the Southern electorate (and wound up delivering Michael Dukakis: go figure). Even as they made gains in traditionally Republican-leaning regions (California favored Bush Sr. by a much narrower margin than the nation as a whole in 1988, a far cry from 1976 when the state went for Gerald Ford while the election went to Jimmy Carter), the Democrats (other than John Kerry) understood that ceding an entire section of the country was dangerous folly.

Indeed. John Kerry's strategy in 2004 to basically ignore the South didn't work out so well. Obama was careful not to do that this time and ended up winning the two crucial Southern states of Virginia and North Carolina. Other than that goofup in 2004, the Dems have still tried to be competative in the South even though it was becoming Republican. Because of that, they still have a number of Democratic House and Senate members.

But while the Dems see the South as a region to invest in, Millman thinks the GOP is not listening:

Do the Republicans see things that way today? I don’t really think so. The national party would, of course, like to keep as many votes as it can. But other than trying to hang on to the Snowes and Specters, it’s not at all clear to me that the GOP has any strategy for competing in the Northeast. The reformers who have played well to Ross – Pawlenty, most prominently, but also Jindal, and to some extent Huckabee – are all basically solid social conservatives who don’t take an especially hard ideological line on the role of government and who position themselves as pragmatic problem-solvers interested in the problems of a family of four earning $50-75,000 per year, and not just the problems of big corporations and the wealthy. Ross is right that these guys don’t add up to a faction, but I’m making a different point: guys in this mold are not going to be competitive in Maryland, in New Jersey, in Connecticut. Nor are they going to be competitive in California. And once you’ve conceded the Northeast and the West Coast, the road to either 270 electoral votes or 51 Senate seats looks mighty steep.

Nothing to disagree with here. Being that Pawlenty is my governor, I can say that even though Minnesota is a "blue" state, there are enough pockets of social conservatives, that allow for Pawlenty to be a governor in Minnesota. Louisiana is a fairly social conservative state which makes a Bobby Jindal possible. But place these two in a socially liberal area like a Massachusetts or Pennsylvania and you have a harder, if not impossible task.

While some have said otherwise, Democrats know that they need the South to win. All one has to do is look at those electoral votes: Virginia has 13, North Carolina 15, Georgia 15, and Florida 27. While some might see this as a backwater region of the country, to a Democratic strategist, this is electoral college heaven.

But the Dems know that they can't win in the South by running as if the candidate lived in San Francisco or Manhattan. They have to tailor the Democratic message to that region; supporting gun rights here, and the death penalty there. To win a presidential or congressional election, such attention to detail must be met or else you lose.

Republicans dismiss the Northeast at its peril, missing a ton of electoral votes: Pennsylvania with 21, New York with 31, New Jersey with 15 and Massachusetts with 12.

Douthat is a great thinker and has some wonderful policy ideas for the GOP. And he has some good insight into social conservatism. However, his weakness is to not see how social conservatism has turned off voters in many parts of the country, like the Northeast and the West Coast. If the GOP follows some of his ideas, that might result in a stronger regional party, but it won't make the Repblicans a national party.

In some case, a little hertodoxy is in order. We need to be able to run candidates that tend to be pro-choice and pro-gay marriage in areas where this issue matters. (I would love to run such candidates everywhere, but I am talking about being strategic at this point, not morality.)

In the end, while principles matter, getting the most votes also matters as well. The Green Party can run on principles, but you don't see them winning major elections.

If Douthat wants the GOP to be a winning party, he needs the moderates to push the GOP over the top. A little heterodoxy can go a long way.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Why Moderate Republicans Matter

What are Moderate,Centrist, Progressive, Rockefeller or whatever they are called Republicans good for?

That's the question that is on my mind this morning and it has probably been the question many in the GOP are asking. In many cases, the answer is that we are good for nothing and that we should join Arlen Specter in leaving the GOP.

By now, I am familiar with the epithets lobbed at us: we are RINO's (Republicans in Name Only), wishy-washy and willing to leave the GOP for the cozy confines of the Democrats when things get rough.

In today's column Ross Douthat, excoriates moderate Republicans saying that these are not the type of centerists that the GOP needs. He offers this portrait of Arlen Specter and other moderates:

The larger species to which he belonged — Republicanus Rockefellus, the endangered Northeastern moderate — likewise has little to offer a party in distress. Indeed, if you listen carefully to high-profile Yankee moderates like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Lincoln Chafee, who fanned out across op-ed pages and TV shows last week to bemoan their marginalization, it seems as though they don’t even understand their own political situation, let alone the Republican Party’s.

The Northeastern moderates tend to style themselves as fiscal conservatives, spinning a narrative in which they’re the victims of a doctrinaire social conservatism and its litmus tests. But many of them are just instinctive liberals who happen to have ancestral ties to the Grand Old Party. Chafee fit that bill; so did former Senator James Jeffords of Vermont, who amassed a distinctly left-wing record after he bolted the Republican Party in 2001 to become an “independent.” For that matter, so does the retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter, a New England native and Republican appointee who often gets described as a moderate, but boasts the jurisprudence of a reliable liberal.

Others, like Collins and Snowe and (until last week) Specter, are simply horse-traders and deal-cutters, whose willingness to cross party lines last month to vote for $800 billion dollars in deficit spending tells you most of what you need to know about their supposed fiscal conservatism. They’re politically savvy but intellectually vacuous. Their highest allegiance isn’t to limited government. It’s to meeting the party in power halfway, while making sure that the dollars keep flowing to their constituents back home.

Can't you just feel the love?

While I really like Douthat's thinking on many issues, I think he is dead wrong here. He has not taken the time to truly understand moderate Republicans, instead relying on the old caricthure that we are basically in Democrats in sheeps clothing. The reality though is much more nuanced.

Take outgoing Supreme Court justice David Souter. The usual complaint against him is that he was a stealth liberal and not a true conservative. However, this complaint says a lot more about those who make than it does about the person the complaint is directed at. While Souter did side with the liberal wing of the Sumpreme Court on social issues, he tended to be pretty business friendly. As Kermit Roosevelt, who clerked with Souter notes, he was the classic New England Republican of 30 years ago. On several occasions he made more business friendly rulings, something that wouldn't please most Democrats and something that probably won't happen with Obama's replacement.

Douthat seems to not like the fact that moderates tend to be horsetraders, people that try to make a deal and in Douthat's view sell out their ideals in the process. He cites the three GOP Senators who voted for the bloated stimulus package as testament that these moderates are hardly fiscally conservative.

Hmmm. While I didn't support the stimulus package because it was too big and too spendy, it's kind of hard to start pillioring Snowe, Specter and Collins for selling out their fiscal conservatism when Republicans of all stripes did that with ease during the years that they controlled Congress and the White House. I don't see Douthat condemning the more conservative lawmakers that voted for tax cuts and then spent like crazy.

The other problem is that I thought deal making was part of American politics. I thought democracy was about dealing with competing interests. This isn't a parlimentary democracy where the opposition doesn't have any say in the making of law. The minority can work with the majority to change legislation that is more suited to their tastes or block the legislation. Maybe Douthat needs to re-read his civics lessons.

Douthat seems to have trouble defining what a centrist could be. Yes, they can be vacous, but they can also have a very solid ideology. He touts the late Jack Kemp as a centrist, but as much as I count Kemp as someone that brought me into the Republican fold, he was not a moderate Republican. It could be that Douthat only sees moderate Republicans as nothing more than wishy washy liberals, which is his right, but because we have lost one of those RINOs, the GOP has effectively lost the Senate.

Douthat and others have always had good time defining who moderates are, but we moderates have done a bad job defining who we are and why we matter to the GOP.

It is a task that we must take up, lest we be defined. That said, there are those that have taken up that task. In today's column, David Brooks talks about a long-lost conservatism that is more civic minded than what currently passes as conservatism:

Today, if Republicans had learned the right lessons from the Westerns, or at least John Ford Westerns, they would not be the party of untrammeled freedom and maximum individual choice. They would once again be the party of community and civic order.

They would begin every day by reminding themselves of the concrete ways people build orderly neighborhoods, and how those neighborhoods bind a nation. They would ask: What threatens Americans’ efforts to build orderly places to raise their kids? The answers would produce an agenda: the disruption caused by a boom and bust economy; the fragility of the American family; the explosion of public and private debt; the wild swings in energy costs; the fraying of the health care system; the segmentation of society and the way the ladders of social mobility seem to be dissolving.

But the Republican Party has mis-learned that history. The party sometimes seems cut off from the concrete relationships of neighborhood life. Republicans are so much the party of individualism and freedom these days that they are no longer the party of community and order. This puts them out of touch with the young, who are exceptionally community-oriented. It gives them nothing to say to the lower middle class, who fear that capitalism has gone haywire. It gives them little to say to the upper middle class, who are interested in the environment and other common concerns.

The Republicans talk more about the market than about society, more about income than quality of life. They celebrate capitalism, which is a means, and are inarticulate about the good life, which is the end. They take things like tax cuts, which are tactics that are good in some circumstances, and elevate them to holy principle, to be pursued in all circumstances.

I don't think this was Brooks' intention, but what he is describing is moderate Republicanism in a nutshell. Like their more conservative brethern they were interested in individual liberty, but that was a means to a civic end. If you look back over the history of moderate Republicans, they were not simply Republicans in Name Only, but interested in building up and maintaining American society. They were interested in fiscal responsibility and in low taxes, but they also knew that taxes were needed to maintain an orderly society. Writer Geoffrey Kabaservice has written an excellent series on moderates in the GOP. In writing about people such as Thomas Dewey,
Arthur Larson, and Bill Frenzel we see people concerned with what kind of society we wanted to live in, not just lower taxes.

Brooks notes later in his column that many who share this type of civic-minded conservatism are no longer in the GOP, but now in the Democratic Party. It's not a shock that we see Arlen Specter now among Democrats. When he first swtiched in the 1960s the GOP still have a community minded conservative tradition in the party- but not so anymore.

Moderate Republicans matter because we embody this civic conservative approach, and I think this is key in this era where Americans do expect more from their government to address issues like health care, but may not be so inclinded to accept the Democratic agenda which tends to see government as the solution to everything. Despite all the noise coming from the Tea Parties last month, I don't think most Americans are going to take part of the movement. Most people don't want a Euro-style social democracy, but they do want an effective government that spends within its means. They want answers to some big questions, and the GOP tends to be giving them angry protests.

What I love about conservatism is that it does honor the uniqueness of the indvidual. But I think conservatism has in the past thought that individual liberty had to be for something, that are individuality, was not just an end but a means to a better society. There is a need for a civic minded conservatism, now more than ever. It is up to moderates to uphold and grow that tradition in the GOP.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Michael Steele's Phony Hospitality

Back in January, there were many people who hoped that Michael Steele would become the next chairman of the GOP. He had worked on the centrist Republican Leadership Council and had made some pledges to work hard to include moderates in the party.

Five months later, I now see the former Lt. Governor of Maryland as a joke. Instead of standing up for moderates, he has caved in the far right.

But in his mind, the party is still open to moderates: as long as they sit down, shut up and know who is running this party. He said as much in an interview with National Public Radio last Wednesday when asked if there was room for pro-choice Republicans:

Yeah, sure, why not? Look, I'm not going to stand at the door with a little checklist and say, well, you can be a Republican and you can't. I welcome everyone to this party. But understand, it's like — you know, when I come to your house for dinner, all right, and I sit down at your table, what do you think of me when I look at your wife or look at you and go, "You know, this is a nice meal but I would have preferred chicken. And if you could take this plate off, I think I'd like a different type of china." It is what you serve.

NPR Host Robert Siegel pushes him on this statement by wondering if the pro-life people are the hosts of the party:

And well, it's not just that they're our guests. It's just that you're welcome into their house but understand, you know, when you come in that there's some core principles and values. And it's not just pro-values and pro-family; we're talking about pro-markets. We're pro-business. We're talking about the empowerment of individuals to take ownership and keep more of their hard-earned money. And if those things matter more to you than what we see unfolding right now with this administration, you're welcome to come here.

A few days later in Wisconsin, he makes a similar statement, that all are welcome but...

"All you moderates out there, y'all come. I mean, that's the message," Steele said at a news conference. "The message of this party is this is a big table for everyone to have a seat. I have a place setting with your name on the front.

"Understand that when you come into someone's house, you're not looking to change it. You come in because that's the place you want to be."

Blogger Rick Moran notes what happens when you come into the GOP house and actually do say something:

Everyone can come in and sit down for the feast but if you are pro-choice, or pro-gay marriage, or pro-amnesty, kindly realize that no one is going to listen to you so you might as well keep your mouth shut. Meanwhile, your cousins and other relations can publicly chastise you for your different opinions, actively seek to undermine your re-election by running a primary challenger against you, deny you party support, and will stay at home on election day so a Democrat will probably defeat you anyway.

An exaggeration? Not by much if you listen to many conservatives on talk radio and the internet. For these activists, war has been declared on those they consider “establishment” Republicans or “elitists.” Just what makes these animals dangerous is never articulated to a satisfactory degree. Sometimes, the transgression is as small as praising President Obama for something he’s done. More serious violations include working with Democrats in Congress to solve problems, being pro-choice, or daring to say that the party has become too ideological and even too conservative to win in many states and districts around the country.

I really don't know who Mr. Steele thinks he's fooling. What he is offering is phony hospitality, likening the GOP to some kind of club where if you follow the club rules, you are okay, but woe to the one that doesn't.

But political parties are not exclusive clubs: they are coalitions of varying interests. The problem here is that a few or one member of the Republican coalition has started to think that they are it and that to be in the party means everyone must be like them.

And Mr. Steele who once talked about how the far right must be more tolerant of moderates is now offering this shuck and jive faux hospitality that says we can be part of the group as long as we toe the line

That's not hospitality; that's bullying and Mr. Steele should know better.

Call this what it is, Mr. Steele. Stop pretending you are being welcoming to us moderates. You aren't.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Is the GOP like GM?

In the days following the defection of Senator Arlen Specter to the Democrats, I've been thinking about what to write about in the wake of all of this. As a moderate Republican, I can say that it has been a hard week and more than once, I've thought of just ending my relationship with this party.

As I thought about and read through all the articles by moderate Republicans like Christine Todd Whitman and Olympia Snowe, as well as conservatives like Peggy Noonan, and their calls for change, a thought started to emerge:

I've seen this all before.

Having grown up in Flint, Michigan a company town if there ever was one, the son of two autoworkers, I am begginning to see an odd similarity between the Grand Old Party and the company that put Flint and Michigan on the map: General Motors. What I am seeing is two well known brands that are stuck in the past, back when they were kings of their respective worlds. Both have been unable and unwilling to change, thinking that the only thing necessary are small course corrections or betting the house on one magic bullet that would make everything fine.

But in both cases, the refusal to make drastic and needed changes have placed them at a dangerous point where their survival is at stake.

Let's unpack this.

The heyday for General Motors was in the 1950s and 60s. Most people bought American cars, with foreign automakers only making a small slice of the American auto market. Americans wanted their cars big and that's what GM and the other Big Three gave. Gas was cheap and people wanted more and more and Detroit as only too happy to give it to them.

Likewise, the heyday for the GOP was probably around 1980. Ronald Reagan has won the presidency and the GOP had ended the Liberal Era which started with FDR in 1933. The Republicans started this era with new ideas and tried to change the way government worked. The public rewarded them with wins in 1984 and 1988 and even though they lost the White House in 1992, they won Congress two years later and held it for over a decade. Times were good for the Republican Party.

But like the auto industry, things would change. In the 1970s, environmental standards and two oil shocks caught Detroit flatfooted. When the public went looking for efficient cars, they couldn't find them among the Big Three, so they started looking at Honda and Toyota.

External problems were not the only issue to affect the General and the other domestics. People started complaining that American cars were having more and more issues, while the Japanese cars were better built. Over time, millions of Americans left their Chevys and Fords and started driving Datsuns and Hondas.

When GM saw the problem, they decided to make some changes, but they were insubstantial. A badge engineering here, a consolidation there, but it did nothing to stem the tide of consumers buying Camrys and Civics. Maybe part of the reason there was never any big change is because outside their windows in Detroit, everyone drove a GM, Ford or Chrysler car. The never bothered to look at what was going on in other parts of America, like the coasts, where everyone seemed to be driving a Japanese car.

For the GOP, trouble started to occur towards the end of the Clinton years. The party was still strong, but not as strong as it should be. It's focus on the whole Lewinsky affair had weakened it. Change was needed and it was offered in 2000 by two presidential candidates: John McCain and George W. Bush. The change McCain was offering was way too radical for the party leaders: it offered the promise of growing the party, but at the risk of challenging those who were in power. So, they went for Bush who offered change, but was more incremental and not as messy. There was no need for a McCain style root canal, just a little filling. Things were starting to look bad, but with Bush in the White House, especaially after 9/11, it seemed like things were going well.

During the late 90s, GM and the other Big Three decided to place their bets on trucks and SUVs. They let their passenger cars by the wayside. It seemed like a good strategy- until gas went to $4/gallon only to be followed by the credit crisis.

In some ways, the GOP decided to place their bets on wooing evangelical voters using wedge issues like gay marriage. It worked well, until the war in Iraq and the financial meltdown took its toll.

But despite all this, the GOP seems to think everything is fine. It can still use the old strategy of pleasing the base even as moderates and the young leave the party in droves.

At present, General Motors is now finally making the some of the hard changes it needed to make, but selling or shuttering underperforming divisions. Will it be enough? Is it too late? Only time will tell. GM wasted a lot of years not finding out what the people really wanted and it will take a while for the buying public to want to buy a GM car after a generation of buying Japanese cars.

Republicans have not yet hit that point where they can no longer hide yet. Maybe that will come in 2010 or 2012. But for now, people think things are okay, if they just make a few tweaks here and there and wait for Obama and the Dems to slip up, things will be fine. They aren't bothering to see what the people want and how to best achieve those goals.

As for me, will I stay in the GOP as moderates are shown the door?

I can only answer this way: I, the son of two GM workers, now own a Toyota Prius. That doesn't mean I'm leaving tomorrow: I still have some fight left in me to try to make change within the GOP. But that isn't a constant.

The leadership of the GOP should take notice, but I doubt they will.