Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Ambassador Who Came In From the Cold?

More than a few Republicans were sad when Utah Governor Jon Huntsman gave up his job and his presidential ambitions to become Ambassador to China. However, Dan Gerstein of Forbes writes that the public shouldn't write off Huntsman yet:

My bet: Huntsman resigns his post in the summer, frees himself up to campaign for GOP candidates in the fall, then forms an exploratory committee by year's end. He'll start out behind, and he'll have to deal with the baggage of being tied to Obama. But Huntsman, who worked in the Reagan White House and helped lead his family's global chemical company, brings a lot of comparative advantages to the table. He hails from a pivotal electoral region for the GOP; he is far more engaging and genuine than the flat Pawlenty and the flip-flopping Romney; and he can match if not beat Romney on economic policy credibility without his fellow Mormon's corporate-raiding baggage, which will be an issue in the post-bailout era. So expect him to at least be in the (ahem) hunt.

If this becomes true, it would be wonderful for the GOP. Huntsman is definitely a candidate that could appeal to "Whole Foods Republicans" and expand the party's reach.

Will it come true? We shall find out in the coming year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The GOP Health Care Political Theater

The new meme going in conservative circles is to try to repeal whatever health care overhaul passes next year. The 2010 campaign theme coming from GOP pols and activists is to repeal the bill.

I have to admit that it's a clever strategy. Too bad it won't work.

As Dave Weigel notes, even if the GOP wins one or both houses next year, they will still have to face some hurdles- like President Obama:

But as Republicans gravitate towards a repeal message for the 2010 elections, they’re running up against the reality that health care reform would be prohibitively hard to roll back. According to conservative health care analysts, legal analysts, and political strategists, if President Obama signs health care reform into law, Republicans will have extremely limited opportunities to repeal any part of it.

“Anyone who thinks they’ll be able to repeal ObamaCare is kidding themselves,” said Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “If they want to stop it, they need to stop it now.”

In conversations with TWI, conservatives identified a few hurdles for a hypothetical, repeal-minded GOP Congress. The first is that in their most optimistic scenario, in which Republicans like Barton and Bachmann hold committee chairmanships, Barack Obama will be president, wielding a veto pen, until at least January of 2013. The second hurdle — one that Republicans aren’t considering, but Democrats are — is that once it passes, health care reform will win back public support. And the third hurdle is a provision of the bill that, according to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and other conservatives, may not ever be subject to new legislative oversight. The road ahead for repeal looks so daunting that many conservatives are looking at legal challenges, not GOP wins, as the most promising way to challenge health care reform.

The thing is there will be no attempt to repeal the bill. Why? Because it's pretty hard to repeal a law, let alone one that is basically an entitlement. Have Republicans pushed back Social Security or Medicare? Nope. It might be a bad bill, but it's still a bill that will give more Americans access to health care. The minute this bill becomes law, it becomes a third rail in American politics.

If the GOP wanted to make a real difference, they would have worked with Democrats and make hard bargains to come up with a bill everyone could agree with. But for the most part, they chose to sit this one out.

So, why is the GOP trying to make this a centerpiece of their campaign in 2010? I think the answer is to please the party activists. Stuart Taylor sums this up in a post back in November about the polarization of political parties. Taylor cites Morris Fiorina, the author of Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics who believes that the American public tends to be more moderate than the political elites and activists. As political moderates are driven out of both political parties, politicians focus more on pleasing the base than in offering solutions. Which is why the GOP is pushing this plan and why they have sat out the health care debates. The moderates in the party that would have made the deals have either left the party, retired or lost in recent elections. What's left are those who care more about party purity than they do in legislation.

What we have in the repeal movement is political theater. It's a good show, but in the end all it's just entertainment.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Big Tent Democrats?

I've done more than a few posts on the quest by some in the GOP to want shrink the so-called "Big Tent." Many of us have looked at how the Democrats have been able to welcome both liberals and moderates in the party.

However, two articles from two Democrats show that the Left is having its own problems on trying to reach and keep moderates and also please its base.

On Christmas Eve, former Commerce Secretary William Daley wrote in the Washington Post about trying to keep the Dems open to all viewpoints. He notes that Democratic wins in 2006 and 2008 was because the party reached out beyond its liberal base. It was because of the Big Tent, that Dems started winning in Republican-leaning districts for the first time in a long time. But all is now well in the party of FDR. Daley notes that currently liberals in the party are attacking their Centrist brothers and sisters for not being pure enough.

On the one hand, centrist Democrats are being vilified by left-wing bloggers, pundits and partisan news outlets for not being sufficiently liberal, "true" Democrats. On the other, Republicans are pounding them for their association with a party that seems to be advancing an agenda far to the left of most voters.

The political dangers of this situation could not be clearer.

Witness the losses in New Jersey and Virginia in this year's off-year elections. In those gubernatorial contests, the margin of victory was provided to Republicans by independents -- many of whom had voted for Obama. Just one year later, they had crossed back to the Republicans by 2-to-1 margins.

For Daley, the solution is to realize that what might be the agenda of the liberal base might not be the agenda of all Americans:
All that is required for the Democratic Party to recover its political footing is to acknowledge that the agenda of the party's most liberal supporters has not won the support of a majority of Americans -- and, based on that recognition, to steer a more moderate course on the key issues of the day, from health care to the economy to the environment to Afghanistan.

For liberals to accept that inescapable reality is not to concede permanent defeat. Rather, let them take it as a sign that they must continue the hard work of slowly and steadily persuading their fellow citizens to embrace their perspective. In the meantime, liberals -- and, indeed, all of us -- should have the humility to recognize that there is no monopoly on good ideas, as well as the long-term perspective to know that intraparty warfare will only relegate the Democrats to minority status, which would be disastrous for the very constituents they seek to represent.

Nonsense, says Robert Creamer, in the Huffington Post. The political organizer sees any attempt to become more "moderate" as nothing more than bowing to the political interests that got us into this mess called the "Great Recession." Creamer believes the nation voted for substantial change is the Democrats must deliver on this change:

"Moderating" our goals is not a recipe for victory. It is a recipe for failure. Last fall, voters overwhelming voted for change, and they knew then -- and still know now -- the kind of change they wanted.

They wanted to end the stranglehold of the private insurance companies that continues to put every American a single illness -- or one layoff -- away from financial catastrophe. They want to take bold, clear action to assure that America is in the forefront of creating the clean energy jobs of the future -- and leave a thriving healthy planet to our children. They wanted to fundamentally change the bull-in-the-china shop foreign policy of the Bush years and re-establish American leadership in the world. Most importantly, they rejected the failed economic policies that allowed the recklessness of huge Wall Street banks to plunge the economy into free fall -- and cost millions their livelihoods. They desperately want leadership that will lay the foundation for long term, bottom-up, widely shared prosperity.

In other words they wanted... and still want... fundamental change.

Why does this all sound so familiar to me?

I think what Daley and Creamer show is that polarization really is taking place within the two parties, leaving those not "pure" enough out in the cold. Both hard core liberals and conservatives feel they have a pulse on what America wants and misinterprets an election win for a mandate for radical change.

But of course, they don't understand the outside because their whole political lives are spent inside a bubble of their own making. Moderates in both parties tend to be the ones that know that all of America isn't Berkley or Alabama. They are the ones that have a foot in reality.

Maybe what could happen is that moderates in both parties get tired of being treated like crap and create one or two political parties that are more in tune with the pulse of America. One can hope.

Links of Note

A Republican Senate candidate in Illinois is spreading rumors that his primary opponent, moderate GOP Congressman Mark Kirk is (gasp!) gay.

Tea Partiers are calling for Republicans to support a full repeal of the Health Care overhaul or face the consequences.

Republican Jim Depeso thinks Copenhagen can give you a job.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

That Ought to Teach Them

The GOP gambled big in not working with the Democrats. Some have hoped the bill passes and then the Democrats will be tossed out of Congress in 2010 because of the health care overhaul. But if anyone thinks this means health care reform would be repealed by the GOP, they've got another thing coming. Republican Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho reports that there is very little chance that the GOP would ever repeal the bill.

Of course they aren't going to repeal the bill. Does anyone really think the GOP would basically end a federal program giving health care to millions? It would be political suicide. Also, for all the talk we Republicans do about waste in goverment and about living within our means, we are really bad about doing it when push comes to shove. It's easy to talk about cutting spending, harder to do it.

But also it is almost impossible to remove a government program once it has been enacted, especially if it is an entitlement program. It's not a cakewalk to reform a program either.

So the GOP took a gamble and lost. One wonders what would have happened if the GOP had been willing to bargain, to support expanded access but to also find ways to control health care costs and to make sure this doesn't blow a hole in the deficit.

But we didn't and we won't. Nice work, guys.

Michelle Bachmann the Welfare Queen

TruthDig has an interesting article on Michelle Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican Representative who seems to never find a moment to talk about the coming "socialist takeover" by the President. But it turns out that Ms. Bachmann is also living off the dole:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Myth of a Center-Right Nation?

Progressive blogger Ed Kilgore thinks the belief that the United States is a "center-right" nation is not as true as some would like to think:
Yes, polls of self-identification on this scale do show a very stable "center-right country" in which conservatives typically outnumber liberals three-to-two or even more. This is how Scott arrives at his fundamental argument that polarized elected officials don't adequately represent the people who elected them, and also how he somehow concludes that the notable shift of Republican opinion to the right in recent years has made the system more, not less representative (that's his major refutation of the Hacker-Pierson contention that the GOP has dragged the political center to the right).

Self-identification measurements are always iffy, as is made most evident by the vast gap between the number of voters who call themselves "independents" and the number who actually behave in an independent manner. But the hoary liberal-moderate-conservative scale is particularly influenced by the unpopularity of the "liberal" term, even among many voters who are "liberal" by the normal standards. This is what conservatives have bought with so many years and so many billions of dollars invested in the demonization of "liberalism," compounded by the very different meanings the term has denoted here and abroad.

The kicker here though is what this belief in a "center-right nation" does to the GOP:

It’s worth noting as well that the “center-right nation” meme has the perverse effect of holding Democrats to a higher standard of “bipartisanship” than Republicans, since “liberals” obviously have to move further to reach the actual political center than “conservatives.” And indeed, that’s pretty much what Scott suggests.

Now, Kilgore is a lefty and this is a blog with a liberal bias, but he does share some truth here. I believe one of the reasons that the Republicans have for the most part held their ground and not cooperated with the Democrats is on the belief that the American people don't want a "government takeover of healthcare." They believe that the public is on their side since this is a "center-right nation." In essence, they believe they don't have to give an inch because most of the nation agrees with them ideologically.

But is that really true? Voters put a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President in office last year. The Democratic President said he was going to reform health care and yet voters voted for him. Also this Democratic President is the first Northern Liberal in the White House in about two generations. If we are such a center-right nation, one would think that President Obama would have had a hard time getting elected.

The danger of believing that we are a center-right country is that it allows Republicans to live in denial. Why do they have to change? Why bother with trying to appeal to independents, or why bother running moderates in Democratic areas? The last two elections should have woken us up and allowed us to make strategic changes, but the belief in the center-right nation allows us to think that 2006 and 2008 are abberations and that sooner or later, America will come back home to the GOP.

But I think there is even a bigger danger: it leaves Republicans thinking they don't have to solve issues like health care reform or the environment, or the economy. Their vision of the right makes these issues irrelevant.

2010 will be an interesting year to find out if this belief in a center-right nation is real or just something a convenient little lie to hold on to during hard times.

What's In a Name?

I've noticed that E.D. Kain has changed the name of his blog over at True/Slant from "American Tory" to "American Times." 

I'm wondering what's up with that.  I don't know the reason behind this name change, but my own guess is Kain's frustration with the current state of conservatism.  Could this mean he is leaving conservatism?

Dunno.  We will find out.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snowe Will Vote No

There has been a fair amount of talk that the reason Republicans are voting against the health care overhaul is because they either a) don't care about the plight of the uninsured or b) are betting on voters to punish the Democrats in 2010 for this bill.

Of course, there are such people among the GOP in both the House and the Senate.  However, not every Republican is against this bill for cynical reasons.  Some do have honest to goodness objections to the bill.  One such person is Maine's Olympia Snowe.  The New York Times reports today, that she is going to vote against this health care overhaul.  Back in fall, she was the only Republican to vote for the bill in committee.

Her objections are not steeped in rhetoric but in some genuine concerns that she has about the bill and the speed in which it is being passed:

Unlike the barrage of attacks unleashed on the bill by her Republican colleagues, Ms. Snowe’s criticism is particularly devastating for the Democrats. In many ways, Ms. Snowe seems to want to vote for the health care bill even more than some of the reluctant centrists who will provide Democrats with the pivotal votes.

In Ms. Snowe’s view, Democrats are rushing the bill unnecessarily. In a recent interview, she warned that Congress would spend years fixing the bill if it was adopted in her current form. She recalled her days in the Maine state legislature, where legislation titled “errors and inconsistencies” would be needed to correct mistakes – in the Congress such legislation is often referred to as “technical corrections” and she said many such corrections would be need on the health measure.

There are a number of GOP pols that have said that things are being rushed. But of course many of them don't really mean what they are saying. What they want is to block the bill. But Snowe has never been one of those people. She has honestly wanted health care reform and has been willing to cross party lines to support the bill. But unlike what has been the popular charactacher of centrists, she can't in good conscience support the bill. Here is a portion of her formal statement:

Having been fully immersed in this issue for this entire year and as the only Republican to vote for health reform in the Finance Committee, I deeply regret that I cannot support the pending Senate legislation as it currently stands, given my continued concerns with the measure and an artificial and arbitrary deadline of completing the bill before Christmas that is shortchanging the process on this monumental and trans-generational effort.

Only three weeks ago the Senate received a more than 2,000-page bill on one of the most complex issues in our history, and we have since considered fewer than two dozen amendments out of more than 450 filed. A little over 24 hours ago, the Senate received a final, nearly 400-page manager’s amendment that cannot be changed or altered, with more than 500 cross references including to other statutes and will be voted on at 1 a.m. Monday morning. It defies logic that we are now expected to vote on the overall, final package before Christmas with no opportunity to amend it so we can adjourn for a three week recess even as the legislation will not fully go into effect until 2014, four years from now.

I remain convinced we must work toward a responsible, common sense solution to reverse the trend of spiraling health care costs — that will cause one-in-four Americans this year to have either inadequate coverage or none at all, and threatens affordable coverage for millions more Americans in the future. As I pledged to the president in an Oval Office meeting Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t agree more that reform is an imperative, and I will continue my constructive efforts to forge effective, common sense health care reform as the process moves into a House-Senate conference.

I personally don't know where I stand on this bill. Like Snowe, health care reform is important for me. But I worry how cost effective it will be in the long run. I am upset that it doesn't sever health care from our work, a holdover of the post-war era. I worry that it just might bust the budget.

Not every Republican who shares misgivings is against any health care reform. When we are on the cusp of making a big change in American society, some of us want to make sure that it is done right.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Cohesion and Innovation

Jim Manzi writes a go-to article in the winter issue of the conservative wonk magazine National Affairs. He makes a good case for the social problems that we face as a nation and how we can best solve them without losing our economic edge. It's also a good criticism of the Obama plan that doesn't rely on mindless shouts of "socialism!" all the time.

Monday, December 14, 2009

“Whole Foods Republicans”

My latest at Republicans United.“Whole Foods Republicans”

Sunday, December 13, 2009

When 95 Percent is a Failing Grade

With all the talk lately about "purity tests" in the GOP, here's a story about one conservative lawmaker in California who is paying the price for voting his conscience over party.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Good Mitch, Bad Mitch

My latest over at Republicans United.

Good Mitch, Bad Mitch

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Purity Tests and the Moderate Republican

As I've been reading all the blog posts about the so-called "purity test" resolution for future GOP candidates, one question has been going around and around in my brain:

Why do we care?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Things of Heaven...Stuff of Earth

The whole sorry tale of Maurice Clemmons and his life of destruction has led me to think a lot about Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor is getting his share of blame for allowing Clemmons to walk free. Most of the political bloggers that I follow tend to view his road to the presidency as kaput.

Now I don't really like Huckabee's views on various issues. But right now, I feel sorry for man. Because while he made a big mistake in releasing an animal like Clemmons into the public, I think he did it for the right reasons.

What is interesting right now is how some tend think that relying on religious beliefs while in office is somehow dangerous. While one should rely on all aspects of knowledge, to say that a politician must not be informed by their faith is ludicrious. Christianity, and any other religion for that matter, is a worldview that informs all parts of an adherent's life. It is impossible to say that religious views be kept somewhere on the coat rack of life while we live our lives. For any adherent, it is the fabric of life.

Religion informs people's choices on all sorts of matters. Many of my liberal friends who support universal health care do so for religious reasons. Same goes for those who oppose abortion or war. The problem isn't that we have these views, the problem lies in how they are used.

The case of Clemmons poses hard questions because it strikes at the heart of something that both Huckabee and I strongly believe in: redemption. The belief that people can change their ways and live right, to turn away from wrong is at the heart of Christianity. We are taught of a loving God who cared for us even when we did wrong and compels us to live righteous lives. For a Christian, it is not enough that the we believe this, it is something that must be lived out, just as we believe Jesus did when on earth.

When Huckabee pardoned Clemmons, I have to believe he did it because he truly believed Clemmons' sob story of having changed. He wanted to live out his faith and he believed this man had been redeemed.

That's of course, the danger here. We try to live as followers of Christ in an imperfect world. We try to show love and mercy to a fellow human being and he in turn kills four cops who were just trying to get some paperwork done.

So what do we do? Some bloggers say simply that Huckabee should have simply thrown away the key. He should have known better. Once a skunk, always a skunk.

Maybe a future politician will do what many politicians do and ignore their religious beliefs and keep more felons in prison and maybe even execute a few to show the public he/she means business.

The citizen in me says just that: lock 'em up. But the pastor in me, the one who wants to try to live as Jesus did, wonders if doing that is the right thing. The pastor wonders if everyone that asks for mercy is a snake, or if some really are wanting to make a change for the better.

Joe Carter, in his excellent post about Huckabee muses that the governor was naieve. Maybe so, but isn't Christianity at its root somewhat naieve? It preaches love in a world filled with hate. It's hardly a rational faith.

The problem for all Christians, and maybe for everyone who has a faith is knowing when to as the Bible says, be wise as serpents and when to be innocent as doves. When can we allow for heaven to break through on earth, and when to realize that heaven is not here yet.

It's a problem I wish pastors dealt with more. Because while we want to have some heaven here on earth, we live in this world filled with grays. How do we strive to be a loving a forgiving people in a world of Maurice Clemmonses?

What has been frustrating to me is that few if any religious blogs are talking about this issue. I have searched and searched and found none at all. I find that amazing. Maybe we don't want to admit that this is hard issue. But it would be honest.

Mike Huckabee made the moral choice in wanting to give someone a second chance. But in this case, it was not the right choice and four dead police offers are the result.

Charles Johnson's Jaundiced View of the Right

Charles Johnson, who runs the blog known as Little Green Footballs, has written a major post on the blog where he breaks his ties with the Right. He shares 10 reasons for his break with the right:

1. Support for fascists, both in America (see: Pat Buchanan, Robert Stacy McCain, etc.) and in Europe (see: Vlaams Belang, BNP, SIOE, Pat Buchanan, etc.)

2. Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)

3. Support for throwing women back into the Dark Ages, and general religious fanaticism (see: Operation Rescue, anti-abortion groups, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, the entire religious right, etc.)

4. Support for anti-science bad craziness (see: creationism, climate change denialism, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, James Inhofe, etc.)

5. Support for homophobic bigotry (see: Sarah Palin, Dobson, the entire religious right, etc.)

6. Support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)

7. Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)

8. A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.)

9. Anti-Islamic bigotry that goes far beyond simply criticizing radical Islam, into support for fascism, violence, and genocide (see: Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, etc.)

10. Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories (see: witch doctor pictures, tea parties, Birthers, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax, and every other right wing source)

Looking at this list, one could conclude that this is the end all and be all of conservatism in the United States. It's definitely what many on the American Left think of Repbublicans. And while I do think there are a lot of problems in the American Right that need to be addressed, I tend to think Johnson, along with many former Republicans, tend to have a jaundiced view of the Right. They look at the most extreme elements of the Right and think that it is sum of the entire movement. James Joyner took a look at Johnson's list and offers his own view which is a lot of nuanced than Johnson's.

It might help that Joyner explains that Johnson was a liberal until 9/11 and then shifted towards the far right. As 9/11 became more and more of a distant memory, he started to see things differently. So, in one case it should not be that surprising that his views changed back to what they might have been pre-9/11.

But his post raises larger questions. As moderate, I know that my brand of conservatism is not as much in fashion. The Right is dominated by the likes of people like Michelle Malkin and news outfits like World Net Daily. But that is hardly all of what makes up the GOP or conservatism. Take for example point 8 that talks about a hate filled right wing blogosphere. The funny thing is, there are a lot of conservative bloggers that are reasonable and well thought out. I like reading Frum Forum, American Scene, Outside the Beltway and the Big Stick. The League of Ordinary Gentlemen is not a conservative blog per se, but has several thoughtful conservative bloggers.

It has always flumoxed me that those who like me, have issues with certain parts of the Right, decide to take the most extreme elements of the movement use a wide paint brush to tar everything and everyone as a nut. But there are good and thoughtful people who take on the task of being a voice of reason amid the craziness.

No doubt, Johnson will be branded as a brave for parting ways with the Right by many on the Left or with those fellow angry former conservatives. But while it might serve to reinforce all the negative views that some on the left have on the right, it does nothing to change the right. Johnson's choice of bailing out at a time when the movement needs thoughtful reformers is not one of bravery, but opportunism.

What the American Right needs now are people who are willing to stand up to the Sarah Palin/Glen Beck crowd within the movement. Leaving the movement helps no one but Charles Johnson.