Saturday, January 31, 2009

Yes, Baby, Yes

I will say more later on Michael Steele's victory to lead the GOP. But it's kind of amazing that the leaders of the two major parties in the United States are led by black men- Barack Obama as the de facto head of the Democrats and now Steele as the dejure head of the Republicans.

Hopefully, this is a good start for the GOP post-Bush. More later.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Rise of the "Conservative Keynesians?"

The Stimulus Bill passed the House, but without a single Republican vote. Liberals are screaming bloody murder and talking about how the GOP doesn't care about the American people.

Myself, I'm of two minds of the package. On the one hand, the federal government does have to act in some way. The old policy of trying to deal with monetary policy hasn't worked and neither has the so-called bailout of the financial sector. I do think some spending has to be done by the feds, but my concern is that this bill is not as much about trying kickstart and economy, than it is about trying tick off a liberal shopping list.

Conservative economist Martin Feldstein, who came out in favor of some kind of stimulus last fall, think what passed in the House yesterday was not a good bill. He thinks the proposed tax cuts will be either saved or used to pay down debt as they were last year. Saving and paying down debts are good things, but they don't jumpstart an economy. He has even more to say on the spending side when he says this:

On the spending side, the stimulus package is full of well-intended items that, unfortunately, are not likely to do much for employment. Computerizing the medical records of every American over the next five years is desirable, but it is not a cost-effective way to create jobs. Has anyone gone through the (long) list of proposed appropriations and asked how many jobs each would create per dollar of increased national debt?

The largest proposed outlays amount to just writing unrestricted checks to state governments. Nearly $100 billion would result from increasing the "Medicaid matching rate," a technique for reducing states' Medicaid costs to free up state money for spending on anything governors and state legislators want. An additional $80 billion would be given out for "state fiscal relief." Will these vast sums actually lead to additional spending, or will they merely finance state transfer payments or relieve state governments of the need for temporary tax hikes or bond issues?

My guess is that all this money to the states will go to cover their own deficit shortfalls and not to creating new jobs. Feldstein says the infastructure projects would start too late to make a difference and instead suggest spending money on our military, since two wars have taken its toll on our Armed Forces.

So, yes, I think the GOP was correct in not supporting this bill. However, what they presented as an alternative was hardly innovative. The House GOP proposed more tax cuts. Tax cuts aren't bad per se, but it has become the cure-all for what ails. Economy bad? Cut taxes. Economy Good? Cut taxes. Okay, but don't you have any other ideas?

The thing is, we are going to have to do some government spending. Conservatives may not like this, but tough- desparate times call for creative thinking.

The problem is that we have boxed ourselves into thinking that all government spending is bad and wasteful. But it doesn't have to be that way. The GOP could present themselves as the responsible party in finding ways to spend wisely, instead of just offering a Christmas tree of goodies.

Now after basically messing it up for 8 years, Democrats will rightly make fun of the GOP for having seen te light when it comes to fiscal responsibility. But political parties can change, so who cares?

Over at New, a reader shared his own thoughts on the GOP and spending:

I am sure you have better things to do than to watch the Today Show, but here was the morning lede from last night's vote..."Republicans voted against the measure because there were not enough tax cuts." That's right. After all the Republican soul searching in the wake of two devastating elections they unify around small government and tax cuts. Truly innovative.

Now imagine if the GOP did not have such a knee-jerk opposition to spending and actually thought strategically. The lede could have been "Republicans voted against the measure because it did not include enough large infrastructure projects and lacked imagination." Instead of fighting Dems on the dollar amount of spending, knowing that we would lose that fight in any event, we could have stood with Obama and called for large high-tech infrastructure projects that would employ large numbers of minorities in construction and white collar suburbanites in development. These projects (high speed rail corridors as an example) would also capture the imagination of the green close-in suburbs that are turning viciously against the GOP and have the strategic benefit of jamming up the young Dem members (Webb/Warner/Hagan/McCaskill) who depended on these voters for their victories.

In essence the writer was calling for smarter spending with a more targeted stimulus instead of throwing money at the economy and hoping something will stick.

But, this means that the GOP has to accept that for now the way that we have managed the economy, through monetary and tax policy, is no longer in fashion. What worked in the 80s will not work now. It means that the GOP is going to have to do what the Democrats did in the 90s, accept the current political age and adapt.

For the Dems, that meant learning to be deficit hawks. For the GOP, it means learning to be conservative Kensyans.

In an article for Politico earlier this week, Reagan aide Bruce Bartlett tells conservatives that because of several factors, including the current crisis, the GOP has to reassess it's take on government spending. He notes, that the nation's love affair with tax cuts is over:

...Americans’ zeal for tax cutting — the Republicans’ best issue for the past 30 years — has clearly waned. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows Americans now favoring the Democrats on taxes, and polls by Gallup, Rasmussen, and Harris show an increased willingness to tax the rich and redistribute income.

Given this reality, conservatives must adapt. If they continue to insist upon rolling back the welfare state by using tax cuts to “starve the beast” or privatize Social Security and Medicare, they will fail. There is simply no appetite for big spending cuts or the radical restructuring of programs that benefit a huge percentage of Americans, especially when there has been a severe downturn in the stock market that has wiped out trillions of dollars in retirement savings.

This means, that Republicans have to go back to what they were during the New Deal years: managers of the so-called "welfare state."

Historically, Republicans have come back from electoral losses by accepting the fact that Americans mostly like government spending. Rather than make a futile effort to take away something most voters want, Republicans have instead worked to make the welfare state function efficiently, target benefits to those that play by society’s rules and finance those benefits without additional debt.

Thus, when Dwight Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952 with solid Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, he explicitly rejected any attempt to repeal the New Deal. Instead, he pushed efficiency and economy in government and emphasized that its bills needed to be paid. Balancing the budget was Eisenhower’s main concern.

Bartlett shares how Republican presidents from Eisenhower to yes, Reagan have learned to be managers of the welfare state.

The Democrats have given the GOP an opening. Such massive spending with little care for how this will affect the deficit, means the GOP can redeem themselves in the eyes of the public by being the party that is interested in balancing budgets and smart government spending.

Will the GOP follow this route? I think in times it will have to. Right now, people are looking to the government to solve this recession. They want unemployment benefits and the like. We the GOP can offer is responsibility over the Democrats' reckless spending.

As the saying goes, we are all Keynesians now. Republicans have to show they can do it better.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Remember the Moderates!

God Bless, David Frum.

I've always appreciated Frum, even if I don't always agree with him. He has always been an open-minded sort of fellow, a thoughtful conservative. (Plus, as a native Michigander who lived an hour from the Canadian border, I loved watching his mother, Barbara Frum on the Canadian Broadcasting newsprogram, the Journal.)

Frum has an introductory post on his website, where he introduces a series of articles highlighting the forgotten history of moderates in the Republican Party.

Here is what he says about moderates:

The Republican Party tends to be most successful when it attracts moderates as well as true-believing conservatives to the tent.

There is a long, often overlooked tradition of moderates in the GOP, and moderates have been an integral component of the party throughout the century and a half since its founding in 1854. Barack Obama, in his attempt to seize the political center, surely aims to claim the Republicans’ neglected moderate heritage as his own, as evidenced by his swearing-in on Lincoln’s bible and the conscious appropriation of moderate themes in his inaugural address.

Democrats remember and honor their past champions. Republicans too often forget them

It means something when one of the leading conservatives in North America understands that moderates in the GOP are not "RINOs," but a long-standing wing of the GOP, that deserve respect, not derision.

He goes on to say that Geoffrey Kabaservice will be writing a series of profiles on moderates starting with Henry Stimson, a self-professed "progressive conservative." Kabaservice sums up his political philosophy:

The sort of East Coast, upper-class Republican progressivism that Roosevelt and Stimson embodied manifested itself through liberal policies undertaken for conservative reasons, social reform not necessarily motivated by social conscience. Because Stimson and other progressives wished to preserve the social order from which they had benefited handsomely, they thought it necessary to prevent a violent working class revolution by creating a modern welfare state, much as Otto von Bismarck had done in Germany in the 1880s. The policies advocated by Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” included government regulation of corporate power, a minimum wage, child labor laws, unemployment compensation for workers, progressive income taxes and inheritance taxes. Progressives also opposed the boss rule of corrupt (and usually Democratic) urban machines and formed Good Government Clubs (leading their detractors to mock them as “goo-goos”). Many progressives left the GOP after Roosevelt’s bolt from the 1912 convention to form the Bull Moose Party, and some never returned, but the progressive tradition survived within the Republican ranks through individuals like Stimson.

In foreign policy, Stimson carried forth the Roosevelt maxim to “speak softly and carry a big stick.” He was an ardent internationalist, at odds with the prevailing isolationism of Republican conservatives (especially in the Midwest). He felt that it was in the nation’s best interest to engage with the rest of the world in forums such as the League of Nations and its successor the United Nations. At the same time, Stimson was convinced that the U.S. could only maintain peace by preparing for war; the country “could not long remain safe in a world where aggressors were allowed to roam free.” Stimson led the military preparedness movement before the First World War, and helped lead the fight for rearmament and a military draft before the Second. As Hoover’s Secretary of War, in the wake of Japan’s seizure of Manchuria from China in 1931, he articulated the Stimson Doctrine: the U.S. would not recognize any international territorial gains based on conquest. The U.S. invoked the Stimson Doctrine following the Soviet Union’s annexation of the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in 1940, and the policy of non-recognition remained in effect until those countries regained their independence in 1991. The doctrine to which he gave his name was not, in the case of Manchuria, Stimson’s preferred policy; he wanted Hoover to impose sanctions on the Japanese and was disgusted that the president refused to brandish the “big stick” of American power against aggression.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Declaration of Conscience"

Every so often, I like to look over speech by Senator Margaret Chase Smith called "Declaration of Conscience." It was written in response to Joseph McCarthy's early witchhunts. Smith was a moderate Republican Senator from Maine whose claim to fame was putting her name in contention for the GOP nomination in 1964.

I think "Conscience" is a great speech in that Smith stated her views with boldness and was willing to denounce those who would take down the GOP. She is an example of a so-called "Rockefeller Republican" who was not wishy-washy in the least.

I hope you enjoy these words.

"Mr. President:

I would like to speak briefly and simply about a serious national condition. It is a national feeling of fear and frustration that could result in national suicide and the end of everything that we Americans hold dear. It is a condition that comes from the lack of effective leadership in either the Legislative Branch or the Executive Branch of our Government.

That leadership is so lacking that serious and responsible proposals are being made that national advisory commissions be appointed to provide such critically needed leadership.

I speak as briefly as possible because too much harm has already been done with irresponsible words of bitterness and selfish political opportunism. I speak as simply as possible because the issue is too great to be obscured by eloquence. I speak simply and briefly in the hope that my words will be taken to heart.

I speak as a Republican, I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States Senator. I speak as an American.

The United States Senate has long enjoyed worldwide respect as the greatest deliberative body in the world. But recently that deliberative character has too often been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity.

It is ironical that we Senators can in debate in the Senate directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to any American, who is not a Senator, any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming an American -- and without that non-Senator American having any legal redress against us -- yet if we say the same thing in the Senate about our colleagues we can be stopped on the grounds of being out of order.

It is strange that we can verbally attack anyone else without restraint and with full protection and yet we hold ourselves above the same type of criticism here on the Senate Floor. Surely the United States Senate is big enough to take self-criticism and self-appraisal. Surely we should be able to take the same kind of character attacks that we dish out to outsiders.

I think that it is high time for the United States Senate and its members to do some soul searching -- for us to weigh our consciences -- on the manner in which we are performing our duty to the people of America -- on the manner in which we are using or abusing our individual powers and privileges.

I think that it is high time that we remembered that we have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution. I think that it is high time that we remembered; that the Constitution, as amended, speaks not only of the freedom of speech but also of trial by jury instead of trial by accusation.

Whether it be a criminal prosecution in court or a character prosecution in the Senate, there is little practical distinction when the life of a person has been ruined.

Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism --

The right to criticize;

The right to hold unpopular beliefs;

The right to protest;

The right of independent thought.

The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know some one who holds unpopular beliefs. Who of us doesn't? Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own. Otherwise thought control would have set in.

The American people are sick and tired of being afraid to speak their minds lest they be politically smeared as "Communists" or "Fascists" by their opponents. Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America. It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others. The American people are sick and tired of seeing innocent people smeared and guilty people whitewashed. But there have been enough proved cases to cause nationwide distrust and strong suspicion that there may be something to the unproved, sensational accusations.

As a Republican, I say to my colleagues on this side of the aisle that the Republican Party faces a challenge today that is not unlike the challenge that it faced back in Lincoln's day. The Republican Party so successfully met that challenge that it emerged from the Civil War as the champion of a united nation -- in addition to being a Party that unrelentingly fought loose spending and loose programs.

Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of "know nothing, suspect everything" attitudes. Today we have a Democratic Administration that has developed a mania for loose spending and loose programs. History is repeating itself -- and the Republican Party again has the opportunity to emerge as the champion of unity and prudence.

The record of the present Democratic Administration has provided us with sufficient campaign issues without the necessity of resorting to political smears. America is rapidly losing its position as leader of the world simply because the Democratic Administration has pitifully failed to provide effective leadership.

The Democratic Administration has completely confused the American people by its daily contradictory grave warnings and optimistic assurances -- that show the people that our Democratic Administration has no idea of where it is going.

The Democratic Administration has greatly lost the confidence of the American people by its complacency to the threat of communism here at home and the leak of vital secrets to Russia through key officials of the Democratic Administration. There are enough proved cases to make this point without diluting our criticism with unproved charges.

Surely these are sufficient reasons to make it clear to the American people that it is time for a change and that a Republican victory is necessary to the security of this country. Surely it is clear that this nation will continue to suffer as long as it is governed by the present ineffective Democratic Administration.

Yet to displace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to this nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don't want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny -- Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.

I doubt if the Republican Party could -- simply because I don't believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest. Surely we Republicans aren't that desperate for victory.

I don't want to see the Republican Party win that way. While it might be a fleeting victory for the Republican Party, it would be a more lasting defeat for the American people. Surely it would ultimately be suicide for the Republican Party and the two-party system that has protected our American liberties from the dictatorship of a one party system.

As members of the Minority Party, we do not have the primary authority to formulate the policy of our Government. But we do have the responsibility of rendering constructive criticism, of clarifying issues, of allaying fears by acting as responsible citizens.

As a woman, I wonder how the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters feel about the way in which members of their families have been politically mangled in Senate debate -- and I use the word 'debate' advisedly.

As a United States Senator, I am not proud of the way in which the Senate has been made a publicity platform for irresponsible sensationalism. I am not proud of the reckless abandon in which unproved charges have been hurled from this side of the aisle. I am not proud of the obviously staged, undignified countercharges that have been attempted in retaliation from the other side of the aisle.

I don't like the way the Senate has been made a rendezvous for vilification, for selfish political gain at the sacrifice of individual reputations and national unity. I am not proud of the way we smear outsiders from the Floor of the Senate and hide behind the cloak of congressional immunity and still place ourselves beyond criticism on the Floor of the Senate.

As an American, I am shocked at the way Republicans and Democrats alike are playing directly into the Communist design of "confuse, divide and conquer." As an American, I don't want a Democratic Administration "white wash" or "cover up" any more than I want a Republican smear or witch hunt.

As an American, I condemn a Republican "Fascist" just as much as I condemn a Democrat "Communist." I condemn a Democrat "fascist" just as much as I condemn a Republican "Communist." They are equally dangerous to you and me and to our country. As an American, I want to see our nation recapture the strength and unity it once had when we fought the enemy instead of ourselves.

It is with these thoughts I have drafted what I call a "Declaration of Conscience." I am gratified that Senator Tobey, Senator Aiken, Senator Morse, Senator Ives, Senator Thye and Senator Hendrickson, have concurred in that declaration and have authorized me to announce their concurrence."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Memo to Disaffected Republicans: Enough with the Funeral Already!

Former GOP Congressman Mickey Edwards has written a piece about how Ronald Reagan would not recognize the current Republican Party. Now there is much to agree with in his essay, but at some point, this is all tiring. I mean, haven't we been hearing about how the GOP isn't what it used to be for quite some time?

Goldwater-style Republicans, libertarians, people like me who tend to be more Rockefeller Republicans all whine and moan about the current state of the party and there is much to be said about how the party is no longer one of ideas.

But I keep thinking that all of this feels more like a funeral- a weeping for a dear friend that has been passed on.

And the thing is, I'm tired of funerals.

I think that instead of griping about the Republican party and blaming Karl Rove and George W. Bush, how about we do something about it? Instead of expecting the current leaders, who have brought us to this point, to change, how about rising up new leaders? Instead of bemoaning the fact that we have no new ideas, how about creating new think tanks and journals and blogs that present new ideas?

Listen, I am as upset as anyone about the state of the Republican party. But nothing will happen if all we do is whine. Lots of ink and bytes have been spilled to say the obvious over and over again.

I've heard Mr. Edwards talk about this subject over and over again, in his book, on Huffington Post and now here. Instead of writing sad songs about a lost history, how about using your expertise to fund a think tank or a PAC that helps good conservatives run for office?

Democracy is a verb. It is about action and politics is about who shows up. The reason that the Religious Right has such power in the GOP is because they did it the old fashioned way- they came in and ran for party offices, took part in platform committees, and found candidates that were to their liking to run for office. Contrary to popular opinion, the far right didn't hijack the party- they took it over using the tools of democracy. I don't like the Religious Right, but they did right in steering the party in the way they wanted it to be.

Those of us on the outside, the moderates, the libertarians and so on, have not done as much. We stand and wail about how the party has lost its way, but we do very little other than complain. For a party to change, people have to get busy and organize and fight for it.

More times than I can count, people complain about the party and then say they will leave it. Oh yeah, great idea. You've basically just told the religious right that they have won.

Years ago, I remember a person saying he wouldn't be involved in the GOP until they changed their pro-life stance. Stupid man. Did he really think that the current GOP which is filled with powerful pro-life people is just going to change? No. It won't change unless people get involved.

Our friends on the left as well as the Religious Right are correct in one sense: they know that to make change, they have to get involved. That's why they are part of groups like and so on. That's why they go to party conventions and they spend money to put up the candidates they want.

But us disaffected Republicans? We want everything done for us. We want some magical person to come and change everything. But that's fantasy, not politics. Politics, social change,is hard knuckle. It's not a game and if you can't handle that, then shut up and move along.

There are a lot of groups out there that work day in and day out trying to force change in the GOP. They are small and have a hard time finding people who are passionate in changing the party for the better. Maybe instead of whining, people might want to consider joining some of these groups:

These groups could use support. But that means getting your hands a bit dirty instead of simply wringing them.

So, I am not interested in more sad talk about the sorry state of the GOP. Mickey Edwards can wail all he wants, but it won't bring his beloved party back.

As for me, I am going to take Ghandi's quote to heart: "be the change you want to see in the world."

Enough with funerals. Time to start living.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

He's All Mavericky Again

This does my heart good:

A joke made its way around the Capitol yesterday: How do you know the 2008 election is really over? Because John McCain is causing trouble for Republicans again.

Two and a half months removed from his defeat in the race for the presidency, colleagues say, McCain bears more resemblance to the unpredictable and frequently bipartisan colleague they have served with for decades than the man who ran an often scathing campaign against Barack Obama. In some instances, he's even carrying water for his former rival.

"Mac is back!" one of his devoted friends in the Senate declared as McCain walked into the chamber Wednesday to deliver his first speech of the 111th Congress: a blunt admonishment of Republicans delaying Hillary Rodham Clinton's confirmation as secretary of state.

This is the McCain I've long admired. And it reminds me that the McCain we saw during the 2008 election was one that had to submit to the narrow ideology of the ruling GOP.

Now that he's done with all that, he can go back to being himself again and stickin' it to the far right.

Though one has to wonder: what would have happened if McCain was allowed to be McCain during the election? What would have happened?

But maybe the more pressing question is why the GOP has fashioned itself into a party that has become so afraid of any other flavor of conservatism that it forces people, even the irrascible McCain, to conformity.

Ideas Have Consequences: The Closing of Guantanamo

Someone in the Obama Administration has to be thinking this was just bad timing:

The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.

His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterintelligence official.

To have this come out the same day that Obama ordered Gitmo to be closed in a year's time is not good. But it does highlight the problem that Obama faces. Yes, closing Gitmo is a good idea, but what do you do with the people who are there? Not all of these people are simply people at the wrong place at the wrong time.

It's not a secret that Guantanamo has sullied the reputation of America. But the other side of that coin is that there are people who do seek to do harm. The question remains how to close the camp without sending people back to their homeland to do ill.

Maybe that's why Obama wants a year to do this.

Not In My Backyard

Per Jennifer Rubin:

If the Republicans are looking for a good issue, here is one: promise to filibuster (with the help of Democrats from affected states) any attempt (and the required funding) to put terror suspects within the confines of the U.S. Why should Democrats’ acute sensitivity about world opinion (emanating from that bastion of human rights, the UN) take priority over the peace of mind of our own citizens? It is baffling.

I frankly don't get this fear of having suspected terrorists being housed in federal prision on American soil. And what's with this manufactured fear about having to pay for these prisoner's upkeep? I mean, aren't we doing that already at Gitmo? Does Rubin really think our government would house these guys in some county lockup and not in some federal prison?

My own take is that we have housed bad men accused of terror in federal prisons before with no fear that somehow they would breakout or something. The thing is, most of these communities that have federal prisons have at times welcomed these facilities for their business and they already house the worst or the worst without these communities fearing they are on the run. If they aren't that worried that these people aren't going get out and rape and pillage, then maybe it' okay to house suspected terrorists in federal prisons.

There might be some legitimate questions concerning the closing of Guantanamo, but this is just a silly smokescreen.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Worst President Ever? Maybe...Maybe Not.

It has become pretty fashionable not only among liberals, but even conservatives to see the Bush years as a big failure.

On the other side, there are Bush partisans who believe that the former President will be vindicated, just give it time.

Now I have been one of many who think that George Bush was not a good executive. I think he was not up to the task of the many tests that came his way from 9/11 to Katrina. But that said, I think it is too early to say the 43rd President was the worst ever or even that he will be vindicated in time. We just don't know.

I don't know if it is central to our times, but we want to make our historic judgements as soon as possible. But the fact is, history takes time and history is something that is ongoing and is an unknown. Bush has made many mistakes and cheif among them was his willingness to take the nation to war against Iraq. President Bush set several bad things in motion because of what he did and we know that. But we don't know the future. We have no idea how something like Iraq will play out over the years. Maybe Iraq will descend into a civil war as the US starts to leave. Maybe it will become a thriving democracy and an example to the rest of the Middle East, we just don't know.

It goes without saying that Bush had made mistakes that have cost the GOP and the nation as a whole. But it might be too soon to say he is the worst president, or to vindicate him because it is just too soon and some of things started under Bush are still taking place.

Decades from now, historians might look back and say that Bush was a horrible President, look at how the world was impacted by his years. But they may also say he did his best under the circumstances or things like that.

But until then, I will withhold my ultimate judgement on Bush. Let history play itself out and be the proper judge.

Who's Afraid of the Big Tent?

John Avalon has a great piece up at David Frum's New Majority website about how the GOP can win in New England again. He notes that before the Bush-era there were still an favorable number of Republicans holding office in New England and now there are none (two if you include New York State.)

One of his tips that the party has to become a Big Tent party:

Somehow Republicans have lost common ground – Reagan invoked the Big Tent constantly as a way of collecting libertarian conservatives, national security conservatives, economic conservatives and social conservatives under one banner. But the spirit of outreach and inclusiveness has been drummed out of the GOP – disagreement is seen as disloyalty, and the search for heretics has become a hobby. Libertarians are losing any logical reason to affiliate with the GOP, while centrist Republicans are seen as suspect almost by definition. When Senators like Olympia Snowe or John McCain win re-election with over 70% of the vote, they are considered sell-outs rather than successes. I’ve debated conservatives on TV who were rooting for Norm Coleman to lose, because they considered him insufficiently conservative. This road leads not just to political disaster, but party suicide. Republicans who have won statewide in the Northeast tend to be centrist on social issues, especially on a woman’s right to chose and gay civil rights. Republicans must welcome social moderates into the big tent of the GOP, focus on finding common ground and not treat them as second class citizens. Remember: In a place where everyone thinks alike, nobody is thinking very much.

This is something that I have long advocated. There are many flavors of Republicans, but for some reason many conservatives think there is only one way to be conservative. Social conservatives look down on those of us who happen to be pro-choice even though we tend to do so on completely conservative grounds.

So, what is it about some in the GOP to be so afraid of the Big Tent? What is so scary about facing a person that might not exactly have the same conservatism that you do? Why has the party so drifted from Ronald Reagan's message of forging alliances with those who agree with you 80 percent of the time?

I don't have an easy answer, only a guess. As religion played more and more a role in the GOP, the party itself has become more rigid. If the lines between religion and politics blur, the party becomes less open to ideas that are seemed as sinful in religious circles.

Take gay rights. There are many African Americans that have issues with gay marriage. African Americans also tend to be an important aspect of the liberal coalition. However, Democratic politicians who do support gay marriage don't fear being treated as not "Democratic enough" because religion doesn't play as big a role in the Democatic Party as it does the GOP. In the modern Republican party, there are many who see gay marriage and homosexuality itself as a sin and want that expressed in national policy. They also believe that it should be expressed in the party platform and made a tenet of conservatism. So, if you are a conservative who happens to believe gays should be tolerated in society and should have the right to marry, you are not only going against religious teaching, but because church and state are blurred in the GOP, you are then deemed not a true conservative.

Which is why, I believe, that many social conservatives are afraid of the Big Tent. If you admit people who support gay rights, or abortion rights into the party, you are admitting those who support sinful practices and there taint the party. This is why the Kathleen Parkers of the world have called for the GOP to not be so identified with religion. Someone like a Joe Carter have interpreted that to mean that social conservatives should be kicked out of the GOP. That's nonsense. Nor do we want to silence those who have a faith. But the fact is that social conservatives have kept power in the party to the exclusion of anyone else that tends to believe in small government or low taxes but have a more socially moderate views. But in their eyes adhering to those bedrock coservative ideas don't not matter; God doesn't get upset with wanting big government, but would- in their eyes- if you treat gays like human beings and not as someone that committed a sin.

Which is why in the end, I believe that if we want to have a viable GOP that follows a Big Tent Conservatism, it will have to come from the margins and not from the powerbrokers. The social conservatives are too strong, and the powerbrokers are too beholden to the social conservatives to make room for other flavors of conservativism. If we want to see more Republicans running and winning seats in areas like New England, it has to come from insurgents who are willing to buck the established order and bring about a more tolerant and open Republican party.

Will it happen? It all depends on the outsiders being able to raise hell.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rev. Rick Who?

You remember that many in the gay community were making a stink about President Obama selecting Rev. Rick Warren to give the invocation today because of his support for Proposition 8 in California. Prop 8 declared marriage a union between man and woman which would effectively bar same-sex marriage which was declared legal by the California Supremes in June. (I wasn't among those upset over the selection.)

Well, those in the gay community who were upset at the choice can see that Obama means his support for gay rights in pixels and bytes. Marc Ambinder took a gander at the newly revamped White House website which included this:

Support for the LGBT Community

"While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots
in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect."
-- Barack Obama, June 1, 2007

Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. President Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, President Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.

  • Fight Workplace Discrimination: President Obama supports the Employment
    Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment
    laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees' domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. The President also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President
    Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and
    privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to
    repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that
    the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of
    marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other
    legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist
    a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
  • Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted
    against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.
  • Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of
    the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we
    need to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The key test for military
    service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve.
    Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of
    dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual
    orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.
  • Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure
    adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual
    orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home,
    whether the parents are gay or not.
  • Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President
    Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.
  • Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS: In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. President Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which will accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women apply topically to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections.

Yes, it's just words on a website, but I think this is telling. Most pols would not be so willing to say on a public website their support for gay rights. So, maybe this guy will do something to further the rights of people like me who happen to love someone of the same sex.

We can hope.

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Well, it has happened- what seemed only the stuff of movies has become reality: we have an African American president. As President Obama said, it was only six decades ago that his father would not have been served at a DC restaurant, and today, his son took the oath office to the highest position in the land.

It measures what kind of country we are that an African American President took the oath of office in a building made partially by slave labor and will reside in a house that was also made by slaves.

The Rev. Joseph Lowry's prayer was great and had words of hope as well as a word of warning: to not forget where we have come from. He started his benediction with the last verse of the what has been called the "Black National Anthem;" "Lift Every Voice and Sing:"
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, Our God, where we met Thee;
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land

We have come a long way. The Dream that Dr. King talked about hasn't been fulfilled simply because Obama has become President. However, it does say something more mighty: that the Dream is alive, that it thrives. We shall overcome, we have overcome and we will overcome.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Rev. King's Amazing Prediction

Maybe it's fitting that on Martin Luther King Day the BBC has released an interview from 1964 where the civil rights leader predicted that America would see an African American president in less than 40 years.

Okay, he was a few years off, but not by much. What is amazing is that King believed it was possible to see a black man become the Commander in Chief in only a few decades. Nevermind that the Civil Rights Act was just past and the Voting Rights Act was a year from being signed. Nevermind that most people probably thought a black president was only the stuff of wild fantasies. Rev. King believed, he had a dream.

And tomorrow, we get to see his prediction come true.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Wearing A Bra is Torture

I've always been a bit confused over some aspects of what consitutes torture. The recent admission by Susan Crawford that the goverment did actually torture someone at Guantanamo. Crawford notes what happened:

"For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators," said Crawford, who personally reviewed Qahtani’s interrogation records and other military documents. "Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister."

At one point he was threatened with a military working dog named Zeus, according to a military report. Qahtani "was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation" and "was told that his mother and sister were whores." With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room "and forced to perform a series of dog tricks," the report shows.

The interrogation, portions of which have been previously described by other news organizations, including The Washington Post, was so intense that Qahtani had to be hospitalized twice at Guantanamo with bradycardia, a condition in which the heart rate falls below 60 beats a minute and which in extreme cases can lead to heart failure and death. At one point Qahtani’s heart rate dropped to 35 beats per minute, the record shows.

Now at first blush, I had honest questions about how this could be torture. I mean, this wasn't waterboarding or burning someone with cigarettes. How could forcing someone to wear a bra constitute torture? The blog, Stop the ACLU regarded all of this as nothing more than hazing.

Being a curious guy, I decided to see what was found in the Army Field Manual. This is their definition of interrogation:

Interrogation is the art of questioning and examining a source to obtain the maximum amount of usable information. The goal of any interrogation is to obtain usable and reliable information, in a lawful manner and in the least amount of time, which meets intelligence requirements of any echelon of command.

It then gets down to business and tells you what torture is:

The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind is prohibited by law and is neither authorized nor. condoned by the US Government(emphasis mine). Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear. However, the use of force is not to be confused with psychological ploys, verbal trickery, or other nonviolent and noncoercive ruses used by the interrogator in questioning hesitant or uncooperative sources.

The psychological techniques and principles outlined should neither be confused with, nor construed to be synonymous with, unauthorized techniques such as brainwashing, mental torture, or any other form of mental coercion to include drugs. These techniques and principles are intended to serve as guides in obtaining the willing cooperation of a source. The absence of threats in interrogation is intentional, as their enforcement and use normally constitute violations of international law and may result in prosecution under the UCMJ.

Additionally, the inability to carry out a threat of violence or force renders an interrogator ineffective should the source challenge the threat. Consequently, from both legal and moral viewpoints, the restrictions established by international law, agreements, and customs render threats of force, violence, and deprivation useless as interrogation techniques.

Scott Payne answered my question about what can be done by interrogators by saying this:

...extreme verbal interrogation is fine: throw facts at the person, make
threats, yell and scream, force them to answer questions for hours on end,
confuse and frighten them. But beyond that, it’s hard to see what is acceptable.
Especially in the absence of clear and present danger (thereby disposing of the
24-Jack-Bauer-ticking time bomb analogy, or, as Chris Dierkes coined it, Cole’s Law).

So yes, forcing someone to wear a bra is a violation according to the Army Field Manual and does indeed constitue torture as would subjecting someone to extreme temperatures or depriving them of sleep.

On one level this does seem more in line with hazing, procedures that while embarassing are not violent. But according the Field Manual, it seems that anything that moves beyond mere words is crossing the line. The minute someone is touched, forced to do something against their will, we have gone from an interrogation to torture.

I think part of the issue here, besides the moral obtuseness of some conservatives, is that most of the general public really doesn't understand the definition of torture. We are thinking of something like applying thumbscrews to people, but I think what the Field Manual is getting at is that anything to demeans the dignity of a person is something that we must not do. So, forcing a man to wear a bra, or calling his mother a whore, is something that demeans the person and is coercive, even if it isn't physically violent.

The person involved in this case was not a nice man. He was accused of being the 20th hijacker on 9/11. Now some will say that because this guy is a bad person, or could be bad person, then it was okay to torture this person. But the Field Manual doesn't make distinctions between the innocent and the guilty. The law is pretty blind in that matter. Treat the suspect with dignity, is what the Field Manual states.

The question that will always remain with me is what made the Bush Administration think it could cross the line. What spooked them to go against past practices?

I don't know that answer.

h/t: John Schewnkler

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Conservatives and Governing

Recently, I was at a meeting with some other conservatives and the topic as usual, was about government. A few of the people there talked about how large the government was and what a bad idea that was. Now, I agreed with that sentiment, but I left the meeting wondering, about conservatism and governing. Conservatism is naturally supposed to have a healthy skepticism about government. But, I think we have allowed that to metastisize into a hatred of government and that to me leads to either really bad governing and to losing elections.

Republicans should be for lean government. We don't think government is the answer to everything or that it should control huge sectors of American society. But that doesn't mean that government has an answer to a public policy question.

Case in point: health care. There are tens of millions of Americans that don't have health care and probably more are being added daily as more and more companies lay off people in the ensuing recession. What can be done when someone loses their job and their health care? Far too often, Republicans have talked about the spectre of something Canada's single payer health care system. Now, I am against single payer health care or for that matter the socialized health care found in the United Kingdom. But just because other nations have used government to control the health care sector, doesn't mean that government should have no role in solutions to health care.

To his credit, for Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney came up with a new way to approach health care when he crafted a plan that treated health care akin to buying auto insurance. The result is still unclear and some conservative wags have panned it, but the fact is, it was at the very least a solution instead of nostrums to the dangers of government control.

In a recent article to Ripon Forum, for GOP Representative Tom Davis says that the guide for conservatives these days should not be lower taxes or smaller government, but something that could George H.W. Bush smile- prudence. It is prudence that must be our guide and not litmus tests:

First, we eliminate checklists and litmus tests and focus on broad principles, not heavy-handed prescriptions. Free trade. Strong defense – at home and abroad. Government as small as is practicable in these times. Economic, education and energy policies that promote growth, energy independence and a competitive agenda that will allow businesses to grow and compete, not be protected by artificial barriers.

That’s it. Believe anything else you want, but advocate for those things outside the structure of the party.

Second, remind ourselves the first principle of conservatism is not tax cuts or free trade or even smaller government. It is prudence, and prudence should be our guide.

Prudence dictates we take seriously the concerns of those who elect us and tailor our policy proposals to counter the government-mandate-heavy ideas bound to emerge from the other side.

Americans want something done about the 43 million of us who lack health care. The question is not: Should government care? It must. The question is: Do we get a top-down, Washington-knows-best, one-size-fits-all “solution” or a Massachusetts-style program that preserves choice for patients and discretion for doctors?

Prudence dictates we build on the No Child Left Behind Act and get serious about education reform. Americans demand top-notch schools, and it is our constitutional duty to ensure this happens. Yes, constitutional. We’ve reached an age where we can’t, in practice, provide for the common defense or compete economically without an educated citizenry. We should maximize local control … so long as local control is working. We need to measure, and we need to see that failure is addressed. Remember, it’s about the students, not the institutions.

Prudence dictates we pursue energy independence on all fronts. It is our key to a secure future and our bulwark against the price swings we’ve endured in recent years.

In the end, Americans want their government to do something. Republicans can't talk about how they hate the government and then ask people to elect them to the thing that is supposed to be the problem. Conservatives are not anti-government, but we are pro-freedom. We should see government as one the many important institutions in society, not as a leviathan.

Yes, we should be in favor of small government. Yes, we should hold fast to supporting novel approaches to social problems instead of the top-down approach of liberals. I am not saying we should become big government conservatives.

But we need to be willing to see government as a useful tool to better society.

For conservatives, government can't be the answer, but it has to an answer for it to be a viable movement.

Those Pesky "Centrists"

In my recent post on conservatism, fellow blogger Mark Thompson had this to say about what he worried was me seeing centrism or moderation as an unqualified good:

The one point of contention I'd have with him is that he comes too close to
suggesting that moderation and centrism are both unqualified goods, an argument
with which I took issue here.

To me, centrism is a good only if it is the result of applying fundamental
principles to changing facts; centrism for its own sake can be every bit as
dogmatic as hyper-partisanship.

Mark has a point there. He has a link to a post from last year called "The Myth of the Moderate" where he argues that when it comes to appeals towards the "center" there is, in reality, not much there there. There is not a monolithic group called centrists who all believe one way on certain issues.

So does that mean that those who argue for a more dogmatic conservatism were right all along? No. Mark and I agree that the party need to reach out more, but I think he is correct that we need to stop calling it an appeal to the center, since the center varies so much from person to person. What does need to happen is to look at the times we live and make try to fashion conservative solutions to them. It's not that something like a centrist Republican doesn't exist, I happen to be one of them, but the "center" for me is different that it is for a centrist Democrat or at least it should be. A Centrist Conservatism, if such a thing exists, would be more willing to craft plans for the wide swath of American society that adhere to conservative themes.

Those of us who call ourselves "Centrist Republicans" need to explain what that means and what it means to create conservative solutions for American society. It's time move beyond a platittue to some actual ideas.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Your'e Conservatism Is Too Small

Alex Massie has a wonderful post on how dogmatic the Republican Party has become and ties it to the history of the Conservative Party in the UK after the age of Thatcher. Reaganism helped revitalize the GOP and ushered in a conservative era in the United States. But as Massie notes, the party has become stuck in its past, unwilling to change as the nation changes, and that past has become highly fictionalized, make Reagan more doctrinare than he was in reality.

The point here is not to say how great Massie's article is, though it is a good read and you should take some time and read it. He puts into words, what I have wanted to say for a while, that conservatism in the United States has become too small; more interested in setting up tests to show who is the "true" conservative and expelling those who are deemed heretics. As Massie notes, you'd think Reagan was the only Republican commander-in-chief, with no one ever mentioning Ford or Eisenhower or even Teddy Roosevelt. (We kind of know why Nixon isn't mentioned with any pride.) All the others are in some way deemed as insufficiently conservative.

Reagan was a good president, but to focus on him alone is too fashion a Republican Party that is very narrow, when in reality there are many different forms of conservatism, that have had a place in the GOP at some point in the past. The real Reagan was more willing to widen the base to make the GOP a majority party, something that many his current devotees would find an anathema.

Maybe because I'm a pastor, I've been fascinated at how the GOP resembles the mainline Protestant congregations that I have been a member of or served at. Many of these congregations were great institutions in their day, but those days are now long gone. However, people look at the past with rose-colored glasses, ignoring all the shades of grey or all the things that might not have been so good during those so-called "good ole days." People in these congregations then end up holding on to the past, afraid to change in order to keep the church going. This road is a slow road to dying, as the old folks in the congregation die off and the new are never really allowed in.

In many ways, this is what the GOP is facing. We are in love with the past or more succinctly, the past when we were king. And many in the party have held on to a fictionalized past that they long for, afraid to let anyone in lest it changes their perceptions of the party.

But we hold on to the Reagan years at our peril. The America that Ronald Reagan faced in 1981 is not the America of 2009. The nation has changed, we have become more diverse, and more accepting of issues like homosexuality. But instead of trying to fashion a conservatism for the 21st century, it seems like time has not changed and that has caused people to walk away from the party. Here is what Massie says:

Witness, for instance, the party's hostility to gay marriage. That plays well with the base, but it's not something that's likely to endear it to the political future. It's a symbolic issue in some ways, but each year plenty of voters who agree with the GOP die while plenty more who don't are added to the electoral roll.

Style matters too. The Tory position on Europe in the 1990s (and on immigration and crime more recently) was more popular with the electorate than were Labour's policies, but the stridency and, to many, the ugly tone in which the Tories expressed themselves turned many voters off. Similarly, the GOP position on, say, immigration is not without its supporters but the manner in which a position is expressed matters almost as much as the position itself. And the GOP has seemed bitter and parochial - qualities with which the electorate is unlikely to wish to associate itself.

Another example? The Terri Schiavo affair: millions of Americans might have been conflicted as to what they felt in what was a horrid, ugly affair. But they knew they didn't like the spectacle of Congressional Republicans stomping all over the case in hob-nailed boots, abandoning any notion of Congressional restraint, let alone respect for States' Rights and due process. The party that says the other mob always want to interfere abandoned all pretence to principle to interfere itself. Voters can spot hypocrisy and while they may sometimes forgive it if its purusued with a modicum of subtlety or on grounds of expediency, more often they dislike it intensely when it seems a flagrant breach of promise or purpose.

He also goes on to chat about how the whole tax debate is still stuck in 1981. Of course, back then taxes were very high and were lowered. Today, taxes are much lower than 30 years ago, and I don't see Obama raising taxes back to the 70 percent top marginal tax rate it was back in the early 80s. It made sense to cut taxes for the upper income back then, but not anymore. But the answer to anything economic seems to be cut taxes as if time had not changed.

But as Massie notes, the worship of Reagan speaks to a very narrow interpretation of who is a Republican and who is not. Conservatism is not as much a philosopy as it is a checklist. There are some in the party who have a figurative list that determines who is in and who is out. If you don't have enough of checks then you aren't a conservative.

Witness a recent post by Robert Bluey at the conservative blog RedState who believes that former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele is not loyal enough to head the Republican National Committee. Steele, who running for RNC chair deemed "defective" because he dared affiliate with moderates:

Steele’s well-documented role with the Republican Leadership Council and association with co-founder Christie Todd Whitman is perhaps the most egregious political error he’s made. Any conservative who partners with the liberal Whitman must be viewed skeptically. Steele claims he was trying to broaden the party’s base by appealing to moderates. “We have to elect moderates in the party,” he told CBN’s David Brody.

One of those moderates Steele supported was former Rep. Wayne Gilchrist, a classic RINO if there ever was one. Gilchrist faced a primary challenge from conservative Andy Harris, a Maryland state senator with strong backing from the Club for Growth. It didn’t matter to Steele. He threw his support to Gilchrist. Harris went on to win the GOP primary, prompting Gilchrist to turn on the GOP and endorse Harris’ Democrat opponent.

Nevermind that former New Jersey Governor Whitman was a successful GOP governor in a "blue" state. She's a "liberal" and hanging around moderates makes you suspect among a true believer like Bluey.

The same goes with his trashing on Wayne Gilchrest, the a former Representative from Maryland. He was a moderate Republican in a blue area, which should be seen as a good thing. Not with these folks. He was a RINO, and the Club for Growth ran a candidate to unseat him in a primary, who was later trounced by a Democrat.

Political parties are always dealing with the tension between those who are the dogmatists and those who are pragmatists. In the 80s and 90s, the Democrats were fighting amongst themselves, with the New Deal dogmatists on the one side and the New Democrat pragmatists on the other. In the end, the pragmatists were able to win the day and elect one of their own, Bill Clinton, to the presidency.

While this isn't a perfect analogy, (the New Democrats are not as strong as they once were and the New Dealers are back in power) it might explain the situation the GOP is in. The dogmatists are in control and looking for heretics to expell. But after several losses, people are going to want to win instead of just holding on to principle. For conservatism in the US to grow, it has to become more pragmatic, more willing to open itself up to differing strains (there is more than one way to be conservative). This doesn't mean becoming liberals, but trying to figure out how to be conservative in a different age.

Our conservatism is to small. It's time to dream big.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (II)

Mike over at the Big Stick decided to respond to my recent post on torture and on the Bush Administration should be held accountable for lapses in human rights. Mike agrees that criminal investigations would be vindictive but has some reservations on a "truth commission." He gives his reason, using President-elect Obama as a guide:

As I have mentioned in comments on various blogs, when Obama received his first national intelligence briefing in November, he entered the most exclusive club in the world. He began to learn things that no doubt completely changed the way he would think about the world from that moment forward. The blunt realities of leading the most powerful nation in the world are no doubt eye opening. This is why foreign policy remains the least changed aspect of the federal government with each new President. There is more continuity there than in any other area and for good reason. Foreign policy is a very complicated thing and it can’t be subject to the whims of each new President.

When Obama began to receive executive-level intelligence he also began to see a very different picture than those of us who get our security briefings from CNN and MSNBC. He was probably informed about successes we have had using intelligence gained under duress. He probably learned about the use of torture in every administration since FDR. He probably learned about a lot of rule-breaking under previous administrations that resulted in a safer America. And that is why I don’t think he will pursue investigations of Bush’s administration. Because now he knows why they do what they do.

He then relies to a post by Ross Douthat that talks about terror and the Clinton Administration:

The first time [Richard Clarke] proposed a snatch, in 1993, the White House Counsel, Lloyd Cutler, demanded a meeting with the President to explain how it violated international law. Al Gore belatedly joined the meeting, having just flown overnight from South Africa. Clinton recapped the arguments on both sides for Gore: “Lloyd says this. Dick says that. Gore laughed and said, ‘That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.’

Let's start with what I agree with here: I do understand and appreciate that once someone becomes President, they are made aware of all threats that the United States face. When someone is elected and asked to sit in the Oval Office, they are tasked with trying to protect a nation of 300 million. I can also understand that in some cases, Presidents have stretched the law in order to protect the nation. It would be foolhardy to believe that no other President has considered or even looked the other way while harsh methods were used. President Bush was caught allowing torture, but I don't doubt that others have done it in the past as well.

Presidents are not called to be Boy Scouts. But neither are they called to be some kind of modern day Machiavelli, cynical to the core.

While I tend to believe that other Presidents have been engaging in unethical practices, that doesn't mean that it should go unnoticed all in the name of national security. It's one thing to get ones hands dirty while in leadership, it is another to play in the mud.

The problem here is that by not allowing a reckoning, allows the CIA or the military to do what they please and what they need to do. It allows for no oversight, to allow things to happen under cover of night.

In a post back in 2007, Dyre Portents had this to say about torture:

Torture elicits false confessions and information from the innocent, it produces false information from the guilty/knowledgeable who have been properly trained or should either their loyalty or pain threshold be high. It does however provide actionable intelligence from those that lack loyalty and/or a high endurance for pain/discomfort. If I had the numbers to crunch I'd bet that the percentage of soldiers or terrorists that fall into that last group is really low. What we need to figure out is if the percentage of real information were getting from torture is worth the sacrifice of America's moral authority. I don't believe it is. We're supposed to be the good guys and it's high time we started acting like it.

I know there is a lot of grey in this issue of security. But I worry that allowing torture and other extreme measures will mean losing any authority to tell totalitarian regimes that they need to stop hurting detainees. As I said before, the law can't remain silent in the area of national security. It's one thing to allow for some flexibility, but we can't just try to gag the law. We are a nation of laws.

The whole torture debate is not so cut and dry. But even when life is grey, there has to be some standards, or we will lose any sense of authority.

The Year of the Moderate Republican? In Texas?

Over the year, the GOP in Texas has had the reputation of being a very hard Right party. But maybe that perception wasn't totally true. Alan Stewart Carl reports that a moderate Republican is likely to become Speaker of the House in the Texas Legislature:

Straus will almost certainly be elected Speaker later this month because he was able to assemble a coalition of Democrats and Republicans to support his candidacy. Most expect him to be a more inclusive and far less combative leader of the House, which Republicans control by a 76-74 vote margin.

Carl is pleased that Straus' predecessor is being shown the door:

I’m pleased to see (Tom)Craddick ousted. The man put partisanship and petty politics over the interests of the state. Straus, while relatively inexperienced, has a record of thinking for himself and not towing the party line just because that’s the easy thing to do.

I doubt that this is a trend, but maybe if Straus can pull it off, he might help the national party learn that to be a competative party, it needs to be able to welcome more than those on the hard right.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges

As the Bush Presidency winds down, the debate raging among folks, is if the President or his underlings should face prosecution for using torture. During the Christmas holiday, Mort Kondracke stated that for the sake of national unity, President-elect Obama should pass on prosecuting or investigating the Bush Adminstration for "war crimes" done in the name of the war on terror. His reasoning is that such activities are not done in the name of "justice" but in reality, done in the name of political vengance.

Kondracke says:

Republicans hated President Clinton and a GOP House impeached him. Many Democrats hate George W. Bush with equal or even greater passion, but they demurred on the idea of impeachment -- mainly because the action against Clinton hurt the GOP more than it hurt Clinton.

But now Bush haters are calling for the Obama administration to investigate Bush officials for alleged war crimes and other misdeeds connected with the war on terror.

Obama should make it clear right now that he opposes such action -- and also that he opposes the "compromise" idea of a "truth commission" to investigate alleged Bush-era wrongdoing.

The main reason has less to do with "turning the page," uniting the country and letting bygones be bygones -- all good Obama impulses -- than with preserving the morale of intelligence professionals in wartime.

He then goes on to say that any investigation or "truth commission" would case interrogators to be too cautious in the future.

I both agree and disagree with Kondracke on this issue. On the one hand, the calls for seeing Dick Cheney in chains are politically motivated, in my opinion. I'm not saying that Cheney isn't responsible for allowing the US to venture down a road it shouldn't have gone. I think he's a bad apple. But I also believe that those who are calling for arrests and the like are not as interested in righting the stain that torture has created on America's reputation, than they are in scoring partisan points. Many of those people never liked Bush and hated him with a passion. Any action that would seek to bring the President down would be seen by many as nothing more than taking down a Republican, and it would tear the nation apart.

But I disagree with Kondracke that we should not hold investigations or commissions to learn what went on. While Kondracke says this isn't about letting bygones be bygones, that's just what would happen if Obama allowed to happen. It would allow a future President to understand they could get by international law and other agreements all for the sake of national security.

The phrase "Inter arma enim silent leges" is a latin phrase that roughly translates to "In times of war, the law falls silent." The question for Obama and for all Americans is if this phrase is true. Does the law fall silent in times of war? Should it?

I can understand that it isn't easy to try to protect the nation from threats. But the values that make this nation great, can't simply be silent during times of stress. They have to mean something.

I think that we do need to have some sort of truth telling, to find out what happened, and to figure out ways to prevent such abuses from happening again. That's what matters, not seeing George Bush or Dick Cheney in chains.

Is it still a gamble? I guess. But to me Kondracke's gamble is bigger:it would cost America its soul.

New Republican Blog Looking for Co-Bloggers

From Travis Johnson, the founder of Progressive Republican:

Are you a writer who wants to keep the world informed about the Progressive Republican movement? If so, drop me a line (at We're looking for a few good writers to contribute to If you're interested and think you have what it takes, drop me a line as soon as you are able.