Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How the GOP Killed the Reagan Democrats

There is a lot to be said about the whole Obama-taking-over-the-American-auto-industry line, but the thing that has been bothering me for months is how Republicans have dealt with the current situation, which is to say, they have dealt with it by acting rather boorish.

Now, I know some liberal wags will say that this is the only way that Republicans know how to act, but that is not neccessarily so. Listening to this recent comments like this one from Kevin Hassett and the recent glee from some conservatives on the Swedish Government deciding not to support Sabb as well as Senators like Richard Shelby rants against the the Big Three has made it seem to many a worker living in states like my native Michigan, Illinois and Ohio that the GOP doesn't give a damn about them or their lives.

And the fact is, those workers are in a way correct.

There was a time when conservatives led by Ronald Reagan, went after the Reagan Democrats. The GOP was interested in getting these blue collar voters in the Industrial Midwest.

But that was so, 1982.

Now, it seems that the GOP has lost interest in these states as they have with other parts of America save the South. There is a lot of cheering about how Sweden is allowing the free market to deal with Saab, and how we should be doing the same thing here. That is all fine and dandy. In some cases, it would make sense for GM and Chrysler to just deal with bankruptcy to get their financial houses in order.

And I agree with fellow conservatives that yes, the UAW has to share some of the blame here by wanting benefits and pay that was beyond what the companies could afford.

But what happens after that? What do you tell the guy who has worked at a GM plant in Michigan for 20 years and gets laid off in order to help GM restructure? What do you tell that person who might not have any other skills and now has to try to get retraining? What does the GOP has to say other than the wonders of the free market?

Right now, we have nothing to say and that has made that worker decide to vote for the Democrats since they do have something to say.

As the writer at New Majority.com who goes by "Henry Clay" notes, that a lack of real policy from the GOP means that the Republians have lost the Reagan Democrats. He opines:

The near total collapse of the American auto industry in the Upper Midwest means that conservatives can finally stop their search for those working-class Reagan Democrats. In part because of the free-market revolution that Reagan inspired and presided over, the Reagan Democrats are now either retired and living in Florida or on public assistance.

Whatever happens next with GM and Chrysler, we are looking at further deindustrialization and depopulation for the Great Lakes states. And absent thoughtful reform on the part of conservatives to alter the course of these communities, this phenomenon will only further harden Democrat sympathies in the region.

The last 30 years have not been kind to the Upper Midwest, and its voters are increasingly unkind to Republicans. In 1980 Ronald Reagan won the state of Michigan, along with Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Those states gave Reagan 123 electoral votes. In 2008, Barack Obama won all of those states, but they gave him only 100 electoral votes.

Clay goes on to note how the the Reagan Revolution did win the Reagan Dems over, but even despite some successes, left them behind. His example is my hometown of Flint, Michigan:

In spite of their decreasing electoral significance, Republicans cannot afford to ignore these communities. The Northeast and Pacific Coast are long gone. The Mountain West is trending leftward, and the last election showed that Republicans will have their hands full even in the once Solid South.

Reclaiming some ground around the Great Lakes is essential to a Republican revival, but the sympathies of these Great Lakes communities lie increasingly with the Democrats. Consider Michael Moore’s Flint, Michigan. Conceding that Moore is a congenitally dishonest person, his 1989 film Roger & Me did capture the impact of deindustrialization on this one local community. In 1960 the city’s population peaked at almost 200,000. Local GM employment hit a high of 80,000 in 1978. Today, the city’s population is roughly 110,000. And following the 2006 round of GM buyouts, only 8,000 GM workers remained in Flint.

Conservatives should not be afraid to acknowledge that for all of its successes, the Reagan Revolution left Flint and many other post-industrial communities behind.

Instead, however, conservative sentiment is too often a combination of satisfaction that the UAW finally got what was coming to it and belief that citizens in these towns are free to vote with their feet if they are not satisfied with their station.

Republicans don't have to try to prop up GM and Chrysler, but they do have to do something for the many who will lose their jobs, be it money for retraining, or increased unemployment benefits for the newly unemployed. There needs to be a domestic policy answer to help people in Michigan and other states that have been hard hit by the woes in the auto industry.

So, why haven't conservatives come up with any ideas? I think part of the problem is that the GOP has become to see conservatism as more of a lifestyle than a guiding ideology. It has become a place that welcomes those who fit into the movement and ignores those that don't fit. In this case, since conservatives don't like unions, they see the workers at GM, Ford and Chrysler as getting what was coming to them. Conservatism has gone from being interested in governing to being interested in being countercultural, in not fitting in or as David Frum notes, it is more interested in protest than in politics. As David Frum goes on to say:

We saw a country divided in two, red states and blue, NASCAR vs. NPR, real America against the phonies in the cities. A movement that had begun as an intellectual one now scornfully pooh-poohed the need for people in government to know anything much at all. But expertise does matter, and the neglect of expertise leads to mismanagement and failure — as we saw in Iraq, in Katrina and in the disregard of warning signals from the financial market. It was under a supposedly pro-market administration that the United States suffered the worst market failure of the post-war era, and that should have sobered us. Instead, we rallied to Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber.

Disregarding evidence and expertise, we shrugged off warnings of environmental problems. One consequence: In 1988, the elder George Bush beat Michael Dukakis among voters with four-year degrees by 25 points. In 2008, Barack Obama won the BA and BSc vote, the first Democrat to do so since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Conservatives stopped taking governance seriously — and so Americans ceased to trust conservatives in government.

What has happened is that we stopped caring about getting votes and winning elections. What is happening is that there is some cache of being seen as out of touch, culturally alienated. The Republican party has become a support group for conservative culture, a place of safety in world that doesn't seem to friendly. While such a role for a GOP might offer safety and succor, it basically assures the GOP to be consigned to a minority party for a very long time.

As a Republican, I totally understand the notion of free markets and support it. I understand that the Big Three were slow to change and become more nimble in the marketplace and should suffer some consquences for that. I think unions aren't all bad, but they have done a lot to bog down the Big Three against their foreign competitors. I am not against seeing the Big Three face bankruptcy.

But I am also the son of two retired autoworkers. I might disagree with them on politics, but I respect their hard work. They went to work in pain, to make sure I had a good life. My dad worked for General Motors for almost 40 years and my mother for 25. It's hard work and their bodies show it. As their son, I can't tell them that they are on their own. I have to offer them and the many like them something more for their years of hard work.

If the GOP wants to be a winning party, it has to offer something to these workers. They can be pro-worker with out being pro-union. They have to be. Cheering the free market and telling these workers to drop dead is the way to ensuring the GOP's downfall.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Greatest of these is Charity (or Not)

When it comes to economics and money matters, I understand it...to a point. My partner is the better person when it comes to money. But I will give it a go when it comes to the following issue.

I work for a non-profit, actually one and a half: I work part time as a pastor at a church and full time as a webmaster for a the administrative body of a mainline Protestant denomination. Non-profits and churches are at the mercy of the goodness of people. A church stays open because people give offerings to help with the upkeep of the church. Sometimes churches are propped up by a few big givers.

In America, we have decided that it makes sense for a person to deduct what they give to charity from their tax bill. President Obama's proposed budget is planning that those at the top bracket (whose taxes will rise to 39 percent because of the expiration of the Bush tax cuts) would not be able to deduct what they give to nonprofits at the 39 percent level, but cap them at the 28 percent level.

Now, I have no problem seeing the tax rates rise back to what they were during the Clinton years. I never thought the Bush tax cuts made sense. That said, I am against capping the deduction amount at 28 percent for high income earners. Now, Obama is correct that people who give to charities will do so for reasons other than getting a deduction. I agree, but there is something sort of mean spirited to in a way punish high income earners who want to give. It's one thing to say that the rich should pay more in taxes, it another thing to say that they are limited in what they can write off to a favorite charity.

Conor Clarke over at the Atlantic Money Channel
isn't as sympathetic. He seems to thumb his nose at the whole notion of private charity:

...I take it that Marty Feldstein thinks charity is something we should all consider good.

I think charity is pretty good too, but there are still two problems. First, the tax code does not define charity narrowly. You can claim the same deduction on giving to an amateur sports league as you can for founding a hospital. I'm not in a position to say which of those is more beneficial to society as a whole. But neither is Warren Buffett or Eli Broad. Decisions about what will make our community better should be made communally -- by pooling revenue and making collective decisions about where and how it should be spent.

The second problem is deeper: It's a mistake to think about charity as an entirely selfless and personal sacrifice on the part of the donor. It is also charitable spending. High income individuals give to charity in part because they derive some benefit from the gift: They get their name on the building, or the continued benefit of an opera in their hometown, or the warm glow admiration from their peers. Why feel confident that this kind of spending should be subsidized?

There are several assumptions here that I take issue with. First is Clarkes' belief that someone who gives to a charity is not in the position to determine what makes a community better. Who does? Let's repeat what he said:

Decisions about what will make our community better should be made communally -- by pooling revenue and making collective decisions about where and how it should be spent.

In essence, decisions on what makes a community better should not be the sole choice of any common joe, but should be made by the government through taxes.

Please hear me out: while I tend to be right of center, I am not some anti-government, anti-tax nut. I am not against raising taxes for programs that might better society.

But I am enough of a conservative to believe that government is not society. Society is made up of different institutions, public and private. Non-profits are an important part of society and part of the fabric that is America. Government to me has its place and it is a necessary function. But so do those churches and other agencies that work to better our society.

Clarke also seems to think that rich folk who donate only think about what they can get from the donation. Maybe, but then, I don't think anyone gives without some self interest. Let's face it, self-interest can be a motivator to do good: look at all the swag you get when you donate to public radio.

I remember how many liberals made fun of Bush the elder when he talked about "a thousand points of light." He was urging folk to go out and volunteer to make a difference in society. It was panned as a way of ignoring the needs of the poor. Maybe it was a way to skirt the issues of poverty, but maybe not. I think Bush could see that Americans wanted to do more than pay taxes and let the government do the rest, they want to get involved. They want to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, or donate to a food shelf or give money for Tsunami relief. We want to support local symphonies and other artists, we want to paint the house of a neighbor. America is a volunteer society and it has prospered because people rich and poor have decided to get involved, by writing a check or rolling up their sleeves.

Government has a needed place. But so does charity.

The Other Side of AIG

Meagan McArdle has a great post about the whole AIG bonues debacle. What we are starting to learn is that things are not what they seem.

According to the popular rhetoric, the people getting these bonuses are the same ones that got us into this mess. But the reality is less clear. McArdle links to this letter op-ed letter from one person who recieved these bonuses. Before you start throwing tomatoes, you might want to hear him out:

It is with deep regret that I submit my notice of resignation from A.I.G. Financial Products. I hope you take the time to read this entire letter. Before describing the details of my decision, I want to offer some context:

I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself...

I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down...

My guess is that in October, when you learned of these retention contracts, you realized that the employees of the financial products unit needed some incentive to stay and that the contracts, being both ethical and useful, should be left to stand. That’s probably why A.I.G. management assured us on three occasions during that month that the company would “live up to its commitment” to honor the contract guarantees.

That may be why you decided to accelerate by three months more than a quarter of the amounts due under the contracts. That action signified to us your support, and was hardly something that one would do if he truly found the contracts “distasteful.”

That may also be why you authorized the balance of the payments on March 13.

At no time during the past six months that you have been leading A.I.G. did you ask us to revise, renegotiate or break these contracts — until several hours before your appearance last week before Congress.

I think your initial decision to honor the contracts was both ethical and financially astute, but it seems to have been politically unwise. It’s now apparent that you either misunderstood the agreements that you had made — tacit or otherwise — with the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, various members of Congress and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of New York, or were not strong enough to withstand the shifting political winds.

You’ve now asked the current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. to repay these earnings. As you can imagine, there has been a tremendous amount of serious thought and heated discussion about how we should respond to this breach of trust.

As most of us have done nothing wrong, guilt is not a motivation to surrender our earnings. We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house.

Many of the employees have, in the past six months, turned down job offers from more stable employers, based on A.I.G.’s assurances that the contracts would be honored. They are now angry about having been misled by A.I.G.’s promises and are not inclined to return the money as a favor to you...

So what am I to do? There’s no easy answer. I know that because of hard work I have benefited more than most during the economic boom and have saved enough that my family is unlikely to suffer devastating losses during the current bust. Some might argue that members of my profession have been overpaid, and I wouldn’t disagree.

That is why I have decided to donate 100 percent of the effective after-tax proceeds of my retention payment directly to organizations that are helping people who are suffering from the global downturn. This is not a tax-deduction gimmick; I simply believe that I at least deserve to dictate how my earnings are spent, and do not want to see them disappear back into the obscurity of A.I.G.’s or the federal government’s budget. Our earnings have caused such a distraction for so many from the more pressing issues our country faces, and I would like to see my share of it benefit those truly in need...

Mr. Liddy, I wish you success in your commitment to return the money extended by the American government, and luck with the continued unwinding of the company’s diverse businesses — especially those remaining credit default swaps. I’ll continue over the short term to help make sure no balls are dropped, but after what’s happened this past week I can’t remain much longer — there is too much bad blood. I’m not sure how you will greet my resignation, but at least Attorney General Blumenthal should be relieved that I’ll leave under my own power and will not need to be “shoved out the door.”

Meagan then makes these statements:

Are we better off because a skilled trader has left, and his book will now be wound down by someone who doesn't know it, or the markets, as well? What trader with any alternative job opportunities would voluntarily walk into the mess at AIG Financial Products? Normally you would attract outside talent into the disaster zone by promising to pay them better than normal--but of course, AIG can't do that any more.

Moreover, presuming these accounts are basically accurate--and I've no doubt that AIG is painting itself in the best possible light--could we really expect him to do otherwise? I've heard a lot of complaints along the lines that the AIG people who didn't immediately volunteer to work overtime and be paid in cigar bands are not merely immoral, but unpatriotic.

I know and like some of those commentators, and I do believe in their fervent love of their country. I do not, however, believe that this love would actually keep them working long hours for little-to-no pay at a company that was failing because people in another department, people long since given the sack, had screwed up royally. Not when there was no possibility of saving their job, but only of salvaging some shreds of value for remote and hostile shareholders.

I know that there are some who would say "cry me a river," to the op-ed. But I have to agree with Meagan, that in the end, we are shooting ourselves in the foot by wanting to chop off the heads of these folk. Not everyone who works at AIG is a crook, and some of them are trying to do good. The other thing is that after these people leave, why in the world would anyone come in and try to pick up where others have left off when they might be the next one to be targeted by self-righteous politicians?

In good times, we love the captains of Wall Street to the point that we might ignore some of the more shadier dealings. In bad times, we do the exact opposite, all the players of Wall Street are villians who steal lollipops from the mouths of babies.

But the fact is, neither of these views are correct. There are fine, upstanding people who play by the rules and do good and honest work. There are others who are greedy crooks. Both exist, but to paint anyone and everyone who works at AIG or any other group is shortsided and wrong.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

My partner and I got back on Thursday after a five day trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was the first trip to Argentina for the both of us and we are definitely going back.

One of the highlights of the trip was going to the Plaza de Mayo, which is in front of the Casa Rosada (Pink House), their versions of the National Mall and the White House respectively. At the Plaza was this image which is pictured. It's the symbol of Los Madres, the mothers and grandmothers of the "disappeared." It was on this day back in 1976, that the a miliarty junta took over and began what has been called the "Dirty War," where tens of thousands of young intellectuals, students, artisits and political activists were taken to their deaths.

Los Madres were women who stood up against the military, demanding to know the whereabouts of their loved ones and they protested in the Plaza de Mayo. They continued protesting, long after democracy came back to Argentina, pressing for the punishment of human rights abusers. They ended their protest in 1986 after then President Nestor Kirchner overturned the amnesty laws enacted after the restoration of democracy in 1983 to protect the military.

The last few years have not been easy in America and I do believe that the Bush Adminstration did much (such as torture of suspects) that has brought shame. But even though we have slipped, I am thankful that here in America we have not had to deal with the military on the streets, taking our loved ones away never to be seen again. We have been able to express our opinions without fear of being persecuted. We don't live in fear of death squads.

Argentina is now a democratic society where the military knows its place. In 2001, when a sevre economic crisis gripped the country and led to a succession of presidents, the military stayed in their barracks. Democracy endures, both in Argentina and America and that is something to be thankful for.

Friday, March 13, 2009

On Vacation

Blogging will be light the next few days. My partner and I are going on vacation for few days. Will get back to blogging when I return.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

2010 Republicans: A Moderate Republican Platform?

Jim McGrody, a blogger from Texas, has put together a possible platform for Republicans as they enter the 2010 midterms. It's called simply, "2010 Republicans." Here is what he says:

What does it mean to be a 2010 Republican? One often hears the expression, “Strong on defense, fiscally conservative and socially moderate”. Although this is the essence of the answer it does not go far enough to allow the shaping of public policy.

We do hear a lot about being fiscally conservative and socially moderate," but that doesn't say a whole lot. So, McGrody started putting the bones of a plan. The platform is long, but you do need to read the whole thing. Here is a sampling on two topic, fiscal policy and social inclusion:

Fiscally Conservative

A “2010 Republican” believes that tax cuts stir growth and job creation. However, a “2010 Republican” is not necessarily opposed to new spending – provided that such spending is offset, when possible, with appropriate cuts of ineffective programs.

Earmarks should be controlled, if not eliminated. And, there must be transparency in the reporting of all spending. Finally, all spending programs must have a “sunset” date insuring that no program overstays its legislative purpose.

The budget should be balanced and if we forego a tax cut to help bring the budget into balance, so be it.

Fiscal and monetary policy should provide incentives for the private sector to invest in their businesses. Such investment will drive job growth and the economic engine of America.

Common sense regulatory policies are both appropriate and necessary.

Socially Inclusive

A “2010 Republican” believes that there should be no religious litmus test to be a member of the Party.

A “2010 Republican” believes that abortion is a difficult issue and he/she may or may not be pro-life. However, public policy should be so directed as to make abortion rare and a deeply-informed decision. Adoption alternatives should be aggressively developed and funded.

A “2010 Republican” believes that federal funds should not be used for abortions and supports legislation that restricts such use.

A “2010 Republican” believes that end-of-live decisions are a matter between the patient, his or her family and his or her doctor.

A “2010 Republican” believes that social policy should be based on broadly based moral positions and not personally-held religious beliefs.

Rigorous personal integrity and personal responsibility are critical to the successful implementation of social policy.

“2010 Republicans” believe that marriage is, indeed, a sacred institution and should be protected. Given the biological imperative of a marriage between one man and one woman, such marriages should be supported with appropriate legislation and tax policy. However, recognizing the pluralistic nature of American society, civil unions should be recognized.

Equal opportunity must be the rule of law. A “2010 Republican” believes that all men are created equal but that equal ‘outcomes’ must not be socially engineered.

Again, read the whole thing.

Saving the Newspaper

A few weeks ago, I did something that seems a bit anachronistic in this digital age.

I got a subsrciption to the local newspaper in town: The Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
I don't always agree with the paper's editorial page, but I did it to make a point of the importance of newspapers and because I've loved newspapers since I was a little kid.

I remember way back in the 70s, looking forward to getting the Detroit Free Press. My parents only got the Sunday edition, but I loved reading it. The reason I didn't like the rival paper, the Detroit News, was because it didn't carry the Peanuts cartoon.

But while I loved the Free Press, I also loved reading any newspaper, including my hometown rag: the Flint Journal. As I got older, I got involved with a program that gave minority high school students to consider a career in the media. We got a chance to tour the offices of the Flint Jounral. I loved it.

I ended up going to Michigan State University in the late 80s and majored in jounralism. During my last few years, I took part in a class called Capital News Service which gave me the chance to be the capital reporter for several small newspapers in Michigan.

It goes without saying that newspapers and magazines are in trouble. As more and more of us go on the web, newspapers are no longer able to compete. The newspapers are at a loss to find a way to monetize the stuff they place on the web. Meanwhile, most of us have stopped getting subscriptions to a local newspapers or magazine. After all, why bother paying for something you can get for free?

But the thing is, it really isn't free. Yes, we think it is and we expect to read all of this top notch news for free, but in reality, someone has to pay the reporters to go out and get the news, or columnists to share their insights on culture. The people who gather the news are not simply doing this for free, they are doing this as their careers and livelyhood.

Many of us who blog or who live on the web, tend to not notice or care about the impending demise of newspapers. They are so 20th century. While going digital might be the wave of the future, in the meantime,we face losing news, because that is what newspapers give to us bloggers, news that we chat about. When a newspaper like the Rocky Mountain News goes dark, well, so does it's website. As other dailies face pressure, and other newspapers close, then those websites, the ones that we think are "free" will go away, shattering the illusion of this brave new world where newspapers are obsolete.

I'm not here to say that newspapers are innocent in all of this. They need to find ways to make their web operations money making. If Apple could use iTunes as a way to make music downloads profitable, then maybe the newspapers could do the same thing.

In the meantime, I will take my weekend subscription to the Star Tribune. It's not much, but it is a way of showing support and saying "thank you." Because without them, I would not have much to talk about on this blog.

Monday, March 09, 2009

So, Where are the New Republicans?

Ross Douthat has a good post today about Obama and the Center-Left. He notes that conservatives were happy with some of the Clintonite picks he made in the cabinet. However, as policy started coming out, those same conservatives (myself included) were not as happy.

So what happened? Douthat posed three solutions and it is the third one that makes the most sense:

But there's a third answer as well - which is that the smart center-left, embodied by Larry Summers as much as anyone, has moved steadily leftward over the last ten years, as part of a broader Bush-era rapprochement between the Democratic Party's moderate and liberal factions. On health care, the environment, income inequality and other fronts, figures like Summers are closer to their erstwhile lefty antagonists than they used to be, sharing common ground even when they don't have identical policy preferences. Thus the Obama team can include many of the same people who worked for Bill Clinton in 1998 or so, and still produce a more leftward-tilting policy agenda than the second-term Clinton White House - because the people in question don't have the same priorities they did a decade ago.

I think this is correct. What many conservatives (again, myself included) forgot is that the so-called New Democrats ala Bill Clinton, came about because the Dems had lost the presidency several times and were losing key voting blocks. The Republicans were ascendant, so the New Democrats decided to steer the party where the country was at that time.

These days you don't hear much about the New Democrats and they have for the most part, dissapeared. That's mostly because as the Bush Administration drifted ever so rightward, that caused the moderates and liberals in the Democratic party to seek common ground and move leftward. As the GOP faltered, there was no need for the New Deomcrats on a social or economic front, so we have what we have today: former Clintonistas who are more left of center than a decade ago.

But Douthat notes that something else has changed, besides the Dems-the nation:

American public opinion has moved leftward with the Clintonites, and under the influence of the same trends and events - from the mounting health-care crisis to the post-Clinton return of wage stagnation to the current financial debacle. And this is what's missing from the conservative attacks on Obama's radicalism - a recognition that the political landscape has shifted dramatically since the days when Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich were struggling over the American center, and that in the absence of a conservatism that's responsive to the changing situation, yesterday's radicalism can start to look a lot like today's common sense.

Let's face it, the ideas being proposed by Obama are hardly new: they are old liberal chesnuts that have been sitting on a shelf somewhere for the last 30 years. But the fact that the nation is moving leftward and more importantly, the fact the the GOP doesn't seem interested in engaging in debate on this, means that everything old is new again.

The speech that Rush Limbaugh gave a few weeks ago at the Conservative Political Action Committee Conference was not that surprising- I mean that's the stuff Limbuagh has been pushing for years. Nevertheless, what was disturbing was what he had to say in response to those within the GOP calling for change:

Now let's talk about the conservative movement as it were. We, ladies and gentlemen, have challenges that are part and parcel of a movement that feels it has just suffered a humiliating defeat when it's not humiliating. This wasn't a landslide victory, 52 to, what, 46. Fifty-eight million people voted against Obama. There would have been more if we would have had a conservative nominee. [Applause] I don't mean that -- I mean that in an instructive way, as a lead-in to what I'm talking about here. No humiliating defeat here. I can't -- sometimes I get livid and angry. We do have an organizational problem. We have a challenge. We've got factions now within our own movement seeking power to dominate it, and worst of all to redefine it. Well, the Constitution doesn't need to be redefined. Conservative intellectuals, the Declaration of Independence does not need to be redefined and neither does conservatism. Conservatism is what it is and it is forever. It's not something you can bend and shape and flake and form. [Applause] Thank you. Thank you.

His belief, which is shared by others, is that there is nothing wrong with conservatism, that it does not need to change, and that those who question that are elitists.

No doubt, there were many a liberal saying that circa 1988. They believed that nothing was wrong with liberalism and that it didn't have to change with the times.

That worked out well.

So, the question that needs to be asked today is where are the New Republicans? Where are the people who are interested in trying to make the GOP and conservatism viable for the current age?

Rush and others are betting that people will not go for Obama's plans. That well might be the case...in time. But in the midst of a crisis, people want answers and if the only person around is giving bad answers, then they will take them.

Friday, March 06, 2009

How Do You Say 'Google' In French?

I like France.

My partner and I went to Paris last year. It was my partner's third trip to France and my second. I love the old buildings, the cathedrals, the food and just the life of the City of Lights. I know that we will go back to Paris again, and maybe see even more of France.

While I love going to France, I don't want to be France.

The land of wine, champagne, Citroen and the Effiel Tower seems to be on the tip on many tounges as of late. In the wake of the first Obama budget, France seems to keep coming up. France has become a way of talking about European-style social democracy, where government has a large role in the economy. Why France and not say, Sweden, I don't know. Many of my liberal friends seem long for a goverment that offers care from womb-to-tomb.

For many of us in the center or the center-right, we look at the President's budget with some trepidation. Of course, we need to find a way to deal with health care in the United States. Government needs to find ways to help solve this and other issues. But having a role doesn't always mean running the whole show.

Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times that he fears the United States might become like our Gaullist neighbors and in his mind is not a good idea:

I lived for about a decade, on and off, in France and later moved to the United States. Nobody in their right mind would give up the manifold sensual, aesthetic and gastronomic pleasures offered by French savoir-vivre for the unrelenting battlefield of American ambition were it not for one thing: possibility.

You know possibility when you breathe it. For an immigrant, it lies in the ease of American identity and the boundlessness of American horizons after the narrower confines of European nationhood and the stifling attentions of the European nanny state, which has often made it more attractive not to work than to work. High French unemployment was never much of a mystery.

Americans, at least in their imaginations, have always lived at the new frontier; French frontiers have not shifted much in centuries.

Churn is the American way. Companies are born, rise, fall and die. Others come along to replace them. The country’s remarkable capacity for innovation, for reinvention, is tied to its acceptance of failure. Or always has been. Without failure, the culture of risk fades. Without risk, creativity withers. Save the zombies and you sabotage the vital.

If America loses sight of these truths, it will cease to be itself.

Clive Crook, a British expat, has written an extensive essay on his own fears that we might become like France. He agrees with Cohen that adopting a Euro-style social welfare system, could be done- but it would mean sacrificing who we are as Americans.

To put it mildly, I admire this country's instinctive suspicion of concentrated state power, its anti-collectivism, its veneration of the individual spirit and individual enterprise. At different times and in different ways, Democrats and Republicans alike have been at war with aspects of that mind-set, but as an admiring foreigner, I am here to tell you that this culture survives, that the American exception is alive and well, and that it is more than likely the secret of this country's awesome success...

This promised transformation is not a move into unexplored territory, after all. The policies that Obama is proposing have all been tried elsewhere. Ideas that look bold and new in this country are old hat across the Atlantic. And we know something about how well they work.

A strong case can be made for many of Obama's proposals, taken one at a time. I admire his ambition to mend the country's failing, unjust, and needlessly expensive health care system. I also applaud his focus on raising the incomes of the working poor, through tax cuts and wage subsidies (such as his "make work pay" tax credits). But trade-offs need to be faced. A good hard look at Europe makes this plain.

Bigger government requires higher taxes -- in the end, for most taxpayers and not just the rich. Europe shows that tax systems tilted too far against high earners stifle the incentives that spur economic growth. Welfare systems that are more generous and have fewer strings tend to raise unemployment. Stricter regulation can and does retard innovation. Stronger unions can raise unemployment and, in the aggregate, lower incomes.

America is not a perfect society. I am not one of those conservatives that like to talk about the United States being the greatest country on earth and then ignore some glaring problems like health care. But I also think that what is so great about this country is that we are a dynamic culture. We have always been a nation of strivers. Yes, the recent crisis shows that there are some negative effects at times, but on the whole, it has made America a world leader. As I am wont to saying, there is a reason that we don't see a French version of Google, or a German version of Apple. Because of the high taxation and strict regulation, there is less room for entrepeneurs. Yes, European societies tend to be "safe" in that there are generous government policies, but there is little room for innovation.

I agree with Crook that such changes have a chance to shape American character for good or for ill. I am not arguing that no changes need to be made. After the whole mortgage problems, there is need for greater regulation. There is need for reform of the unemployment system or definitely health care. But it seems to me that instead of looking to Europe for the answer, shouldn't we be looking here in America?

Like I said, I like France, but I don't want to live there.

Wanted: An Anti-Limbaugh Big Mouth

This post over at Conventional Folly was a bit annoying at first blush, but then made sense:

I went and listened to the on-air debate between David Frum and Mark Levin at the urging of Massie and Sullivan, and I came away with the surprising conclusion that Levin definitely got the best of Frum (all use of the mute button aside). I think that’s because Frum is not acknowledging a sad fact: the dearth of charismatic political leaders on the right means that Levin’s incessant digs about relevance, as measured in “audience” for their respective work, actually matter. What good is the “idea leadership” espoused by Frum, Douthat/Salam, Brooks, et al. if it has little resonance with the mass of voters who make up the core of the Republican electorate?

The retort that Frum was unsuccessfully trying to make is that demagoguery, which is what Rush Limbaugh, Levin, and their ilk regularly engage in, is a sorry substitute for leadership. And, while that may very well be true, wonkery is an even more sorry substitute for leadership. The people don’t want nuance, substance, or even good ideas. They want something they can easily understand in sound-byte form, something that resonates with their simple, innate notions of justice, something they can repeat around the water cooler and feel good about. That’s something that writerly, intellectual types all too frequently miss. And, I hasten to add, it’s exactly what Barack Obama has been able to provide for the Democrats. (Emaphasis mine.)

I think he has a point. Frum, et al. are good writers, but in the world of politics, there needs to be someone that can take all this wonkery and distill it down to something that can be placed in a soundbite. As Marusic notes, Obama had a good way of taking all the Democratic wonk and distill into a wonderful speech. Bill Clinton could do that. So did Ronald Reagan. The thing is, someone like a Ross Douthat is not something that the average joe is going to get excited about. Which is why so many among the base like Rush: he can take "conservative" notions and make them easy to digest.

What the GOP needs is somewhat that can be "wonky" and accesible at the same time.It might be that someone like a Utah Governor Jon Huntsman could be the guy that takes thoughts from Frum, Douthat, Salam and others make then ready for mass consumption.

In the end, to reach out beyond the base that people like Frum (including myself) want to do, they need to find people who can translate that and make it presentable to the a water cooler conversation. Until that happens, the reform-minded conservatives will be on the losing end of the battle.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Voter's Remorse

I should have known better.

For those of you who have been following me, most of you know that I grudingly voted for Obama last November. It was a ticket-spittling vote: voted for Obama and then voted GOP down the line. I noted that I was going to cast my vote with some trepidation:

While I am supporting Obama, it is with trepidation. I worry that once in office he will veer too far to the Left, pleasing the Democratic base. I can only hope that with so much support from independents and Republicans, that he will realize that he has to govern from the center or face a backlash in 2010.

Well, it seems like my fears have been confirmed. It started with the Stimulus Bill that I thought was too stuffed with pork to do any real good. Now it comes in the form of Obama's proposed budget.

From far away, it looks good. As David Brooks notes, it spends money in some needed areas like the environment and health care. It's when you look closer that you see how bad it is and it plays to Obama's progressive base leaving moderates in the dust. Brooks notes:

There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.

So programs are piled on top of each other and we wind up with a gargantuan $3.6 trillion budget. We end up with deficits that, when considered realistically, are $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see. We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.

For true-blue liberals, this is the ultimate wet dream. This what Paul Krugman, the liberal economist for the New York Times said on Friday:

The budget will, among other things, come as a huge relief to Democrats who were starting to feel a bit of postpartisan depression. The stimulus bill that Congress passed may have been too weak and too focused on tax cuts. The administration’s refusal to get tough on the banks may be deeply disappointing. But fears that Mr. Obama would sacrifice progressive priorities in his budget plans, and satisfy himself with fiddling around the edges of the tax system, have now been banished.

Like Brooks though, this wasn't what I signed up for. I had hoped that maybe, just maybe, Obama would govern more center-left. Yes, he would govern with some leftist tendencies, but seeing the amount of moderates, independents and Republicans who voted for him, he would have governed more to the center than to the left.

Yeah, that was a silly hope. As Brooks notes:

Those of us who consider ourselves moderates — moderate-conservative, in my case — are forced to confront the reality that Barack Obama is not who we thought he was. His words are responsible; his character is inspiring. But his actions betray a transformational liberalism that should put every centrist on notice. As Clive Crook, an Obama admirer, wrote in The Financial Times, the Obama budget “contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.”

Back during the elections, I was somewhat suspicious of Obama's talk of bipartisanship and new politics. After all, John McCain, the GOP challenger had a real history of reaching out to Democrats and angering fellow Republicans by not being the good conservative soldier. But Obama had no proof of his willingness to compromise other than his words. As McCain tacked rightward during the campaign, it left his message of being able to bridge the partisan divide in tatters and many moderates looked to Obama and gave him the benefit of the doubt despite his voting record. Now, we are seeing that those doubts were real.

Part of his budget are good and I don't have much of problem with. I don't have a problem with letting the Bush tax cuts expire on the wealthy since I never thought that was a good idea. But capping the amount that can be deducted by the upper income as charitable contributions seems somewhat mean.

Also, financiing this only one class is also misguided. My problem with many on the Left is that for all the talk about "being in this together" and of "shared interests" when it comes to paying for government, they seem to think that only the rich should pay. Again, I'm not opposed to having the rich pay more in taxes, but if we want more government services, I think we all have to pitch in some way.

Finally, this loads a lot of deficit on the government. Now, yes, the Republicans went nuts and ran up the deficit. But that doesn't mean that because the GOP lost its drive to be responsible, that this gives the Democrats a green light to spend, spend, spend. The Obama administration thinks that as the economy recovers, the deficit will become a thing of the past. But if this crisis is so dire, isn't a little rosy to think that it will end quickly?

What I am learning from this experience is that those of us that call ourselves moderates are not very politically savvy. We are swayed by soothing words. George W. Bush also campaigned as a moderate and talked about being a "uniter, not a divider." Once in office, he governed from the hard right. Barack Obama talked about being post-partisan. So far, we haven't seen that.

Just because someone talks about bridging the partisan divide, that doesn't mean that one will govern as a moderate. Moderates love to listen to words, but the fact is politics is about special interest groups asserting influence. It has been progressive Democrats that have worked hard to get Obama elected. It was the Christian Right that worked to get Bush in the White House. When you have a group doing all it can for a candidate, they expect payback and they get it.

Moderates don't really like the who party appratus and all the pleasing of specific interest groups. They don't get that to exert influence, you have to get involved in the work of democracy to get your candidate elected. If you want a moderate candidate, you have to put some skin in the game. We moderates don't want to do that.

So, we listen to words. Politicians know this. They need to get some moderate voters to win, so they will say what they need in order to win. Bush did this and I think Obama is doing this as well.

All of this has made me think that it is even more important to stay in the GOP and fight the good moderate fight. But that means getting busy and not simply listen to nice sounding words. I need to work for candidates who will adhere to a more moderate message.

In the end, I need to always listen to my gut. Don't trust the nice sounding words.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

In Search of the Leader of the GOP

I grew up in Michigan, about sixty miles from the Canadian border. Our local cable system offered (and still does) the closest Canadian television station: Channel 9, a CBC affilate in Windsor, Ontario.

Beginning in high school and through college and even today, whenever I am home in Michigan, I turned on the CBC to catch their two nightly newsprograms: The National and The Journal. (I especially loved the Journal with the late Barbara Frum, the mother of conservative writer David Frum.)

It was by watching these two programs that I learned about our neighbors to the North and especially how their political parties operate. Since Canada has a parliamentary system, the leader of a political party is determined by a vote at a party convention. If the leader's party gets the most seats in Parliment, then said leader becomes the Prime Minister.

So, let's take Stephen Harper, the current Canadian Prime Minister. Harper is the head of the Conservative Party of Canada. The Conservative Party had a convention where several people placed their hats in the ring to run for the leadership of the party. Stephen Harper came out on top.

When a party is not in power, then the leader of that party, again someone who has been elected, is the effective spokesperson for the party. When someone wants to talk to someone about an important issue, then it is the party leader that speaks. So, the Liberal Party, the second largest party, is led by Michael Ignatieff and he is not simply a talking head, but the real leader who sets policy and is the Prime Minister-in-waiting, if the current Prime Minister doesn't work out with the nation.

The reason behind this civics lesson on Canadian politics is to put this whole Rush Limbaugh/Michael Steele fight in perspective. Bloggers, pundits and commentators on the left and the right are talking about this dust up, as well as Limbaugh's speech at CPAC as if Limbaugh had been selected as the leader of the GOP.

But as Jay Cost has noted, Rush isn't the head of the GOP. And neither for that matter is Michael Steele. American politics is different from Canadian politics and we need to remember that as we deal with the rotund radio announcer.

Here is what Cost notes about the power of Rush:

Per my column yesterday, I'd argue that Rush Limbaugh is not the "leader" of the Republican Party. Limbaugh is a radio talk show host - a very important one who has 15 million listeners a week. But we're talking about a political party, and therefore electoral politics, which is a mass phenomenon. Limbaugh has influence in the party - that's for sure - but he is not the leader. Contrary to Reihan Salam's suggestion, he cannot remake the "Party of Lincoln" into the "Party of Limbaugh," nor does he have the power to define the image of the party for the mass public.

That has not stopped people from acting like he has the power to shape its image. So, if he isn't the "leader of the party" even figuratively, then who is? Cost explains:

The next question is: who is looking out for the interests of the whole party? The answer: nobody. The title is actually a trick question. American political parties do not really have leaders, except when they temporarily control the White House (and even then, the President is still looking out for his own political interests, so there still can be conflict; plus his coercive power over fellow partisans is mostly informal). There is no permanent position or organization that makes sure that candidates behave responsibly, i.e. in a way that is consistent with the overall goal of the party (which is to take control of the government).

Cost goes on to say that in reality it is the candidates for office that are the ones who have the power in the party.

As somebody who supports "responsible party government," I see this as a huge problem. Without a centralizing authority that can discipline candidates, you're bound to find instances of the problem of collective action: the whole party wants to win control of the government, candidates want to win their own elections - frequently these goals can conflict, yet there is no way for the party to coerce candidates to do what is good for the party. We discussed this last week when we noted what a pantload Jim Bunning is, yet the party lacks a way to deal with him effectively.

Ultimately, candidates are in control. There is no entity - be it an organization or person - that really has the power to make sure they behave in a way that is responsible to the broader agenda party. It just does not exist. The actions of the party are frequently just the sum total of these individual schemes. There is no institutionalized position of leadership, in the sense that we traditionally think of one.

So, why do we all act as if Rush had been voted on as head of the GOP?

In my own opinion, it has to do with the choas facing the Republican party at this time, as well as the Democrats trying to frame the issue.

The GOP is in the wilderness trying to figure out its next steps. Part of the issue here that many reformers like David Frum and David Brooks have rightly pointed out is that the party needs to change its message and be more open to new ideas; something that Rush is against. But Rush isn't the problem as much as he is the symptom. His speech last week caught the mood of many movement conservatives. His sentiment, which seemed sneering towards any dissent or hint of intellectualism, is shared by many in the GOP today.

The problem didn't just arise one day; this has been a problem for quiet some time. Rush puts a face on this issue (and it is not a pretty face). And that's the point: Rush Limbaugh is not the leader of the Republican Party for the reasons stated earlier- we don't have a system like Canada does. Our political parties are more freewheeling and basically leaderless.

That said, while Limbaugh is not the leader of the party, he is a face of the party, a face of what the party represents to some people. What a lot of people are finally waking up to is that Rush is the face of many in the modern GOP.

In this short attention span, PR-driven age, Rush is the billboard of a significant part of the GOP: the angry base.

But there is good news here. If Rush isn't the leader of the Republicans, but a face, an image, that means that there is a chance to change the message. That means there are other people who have stature among conservatives, that can present an alternative view. While Michael Steele isn't any more the leader of the GOP than Rush, he also can present an alternative face of the GOP. What was frustrating about his apology to Rush, wasn't that he realized who the true leader was, but that he failed to stand up for his articulation of the Republican Party. People don't need to stand up to Rush as much they need to be able to present another face of the party, to share the feelings of many conservatives in this country who don't share the angry views of some on the Right.

In this American political party, where there is no one leader, those of us who present a more civilized conservatism, has an opportunity to make some "face time" with the American people. We don't need to confront Rush, as much as counter his message.

There is no leader of the GOP and in trying to answer the question of, "Who's in charge?" we waste time in countering the message of Rush, the face of Rush with a more inclusive face.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Why Does Rush Matter?

It's interesting that other conservatives are now realizing what I've known for about 15 years: that Rush Limbaugh is a windbag that is more concerned about boosting his ratings than he is about trying to rebuild the GOP.

But now, that conservatives and liberals are chatting about the rotund radio announcer, I am left wondering something:

Why Does Rush Matter?

Why have so many bloggers spent so much time writing about this guy?

Yes, I know that he seems to hold a big sway over a lot of conservatives. Yes, he made a big speech at CPAC which is the big gathering of movement conservatives. But why have we made Rush and CPAC the be all and end all of American conservatism when they aren't?

Rush's message is a damaging to the GOP- I get it. CPAC is big, it is what made Ronald Reagan. But if Rush is not going to listen to reason and if CPAC is more interested in Joe the Plumber than in trying to build from the ashes, then maybe it's time to start to build a counter movement. Maybe it is time to build a new kind of CPAC that is more inclusive and more focused on solutions than in slogans. Maybe we need to ignore Rush and his blatherings and get our own ideas out in the open.

Think about it: the Democrats created new vehicles to carry their message. Moveon.org used the internet to get the message out. Yearly Kos became the liberal version of CPAC with progressive bloggers coming together to find ways to get the progressive message out there and pick candidates who could win. When the party and ideological apparatus was not responsive, they created their own structures.

It's interesting talking about how conservatism is dead and all that; but I know it is alive in people like David Brooks, David Frum, Reihan Salam, Ross Douthat and others. What it needs are new structures to carry that new message along. Rush won't do it and neither will CPAC or for that matter, Michael Steele and the RNC.

The GOP and American conservatism can survive; it just needs stop focusing on Rush. As Dr. Suess once said: "Those who matter don't mind. Those who mind, don't matter."

Rush Limbaugh doesn't matter.

The Mythical Minority Social Conservative

Every so often, I have heard conservative Republican operatives talk about how the GOP has an inroad to persons of color because in many of those communities, there is strong opposition to gay marriage.

Since there hasn't been a flood of black people to the GOP based on their stance on gay marriage, I have always found that argument bogus if not bigoted. Being someone who is African American (and gay to boot) I've always believed that most African Americans are concerned with bread and butter issues instead of whether I and my partner decide to go to the justice of the peace and get hitched.

Finally, a conservative has shown this belief to be false. Zac Morgan, writing in today's New Majority, shares that the evidence doesn't line up with the rhetoric coming from leading conservatives:

Let's look at the black vote first, and put aside whether or not large portions of an ethnic group with a median income that is barely over half of that of white Americans (and shows historical antipathy to the GOP) could be swung on moral issues.

First of all, while it is true that blacks came out very heavily in favor of Proposition 8 (70 percent), they also had no problem voting heavily for President Obama (McCain only winning 5 percent). On the issue of Proposition 8, Obama made it very clear during the campaign that he opposed it; McCain made it just as clear that he favored it. As of now, there is simply no evidence that this issue has the potential to move significant numbers of black voters into the red column. Even if it did, younger African-Americans are somewhat more likely to embrace gay marriage than their elders. According to a 2007 study by the University of Chicago, 58 percent of black youth were opposed to same-sex marriage.

As for forging an electoral coalition with Latinos over gay marriage, this seems far less likely. Whites and Hispanics had little difference in their support for Proposition 8 (49 percent for whites, 53 percent for Latinos), and the Chicago study indicates that younger voters in both groups are moving away from opposing same-sex marriage at the same pace (35 percent of whites and 36 percent of Hispanics).

So if the vote among younger minority voters is trending away from opposing gay marriage and if these constituencies have voted consistently Democratic, what is leading conservatives to think they can create a "moral coalition?" Well, it has to with appearing to reach out without having to change:

For years, conservatives have entertained this fantasy that the GOP could woo over ethnic minorities by appealing to "religious" or "cultural" values, particularly on the issue of gay marriage, without having to change any other aspects of the pachyderm appeal. This is an urban legend to retire to the Snopes page. In recent years, Hispanics have very conclusively shown that their political allegiance is tied to other issues, particularly immigration (it would be foolhardy not to note that the last two extremely successful Republican candidates to win Hispanics at a national level, Reagan and George W. Bush, both openly supported some form of amnesty). Successful Republicans who have won the black vote, such as Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, did so by engaging in a constant, heart-felt dialogue with black groups and churches, and addressing the poverty question head-on. As he once noted to an audience at an event I attended, he came at the issue from the angle "Just because you were born in a crummy neighborhood doesn't mean your children have to go to a crummy school." (In this sense, perhaps half of Mr. Johnson's observation, regarding GOP support for urban charter schools, shows more promise.)

Take Latinos for example. Most Latinos tend to view immigration or English-only/official language efforts as important issues. Leading Republicans have made it standard that any immigration reform has to start with sending all 12 million illegal immigrants back to whence they came. When George Bush (who made some inroads into the Hispanic Community) and John McCain showed support for a Guest Worker plan, it was immediately slammed as "amnesty." It is a high sense of disconnect with reality to push for immigration reforms that boarders on xenophobia, and the turn around expect Latinos to work with you on banning gay marriage.

If the GOP wants to bring more black and Latino folk into the party, they are going to have to meet them on their own terms. Many communities are dealing with lack of basic services and economic opportunity. What the Republicans should be doing is listen to what these communities need and fashioning conservative solutions ala Jack Kemp, rather than as Morgan ends his essay, "bring the culture war to minority churches."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

How to be a Republican in the Age of Obama: Three Choices

I don't try to assume that I know everything when it comes to politics: I'm just some guy with a laptop likes to run at the mouth or keyboard.

But in looking at the GOP in the weeks since Barack Obama became President and since the Democrats have taken power,I see three options for how Republicans can go forward in this new time. I will say straight up that I have a bias in one of these options. But all of them will be looked at with the good sides and the bad sides as well.

Option One- Confrontation. This is the one that seems to be getting the most play right now by the GOP in Congress. Instead of trying to work with the Democrats in Congress, they oppose their plans on the hopes that if these plans don't work, then the only one who will be blamed are the Democrats. Maybe the most visible person for this option is Rush Limbaugh.

The up side is that this approach tends to unite Republicans around a cause. It gives the Sean Hannitys of the world, something to fume against and as the left can tell you, expressing outrage can be a unifying event.

The downside, is that this appoach offers no ideas or alternatives to the Democratic plan. It's full of empty calories-all rage and nothing else. It's also a pretty risky option. What happens if Obama's plans work? Then the GOP has egg on their faces and their ranks shrink further, which then gives the Dems free reign to offer up plans that are pretty terrible in the long run (ala welfare programs of the 60s and 70s).

Option Two: Accomodation.
This option assume that since the Democrats have the power in Congress and the White House, that the only option is to go along and try to make small changes where possible. This approach seems at times to be the one many centrist and moderate bloggers want. The representative of this approach would have to be Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, one of three Republicans to vote for the recent stimulus.

The upside of this approach is that it is realistic and is partly how things get done in Washington. The three Republicans in the Senate realized that they could only cut so much from the bill that would pass muster with Democrats. So, they did that and made what seemed to many conservatives as a bad bill, not so bad. As they say, elections have consequences and one of them is that Republicans have to accept that they are not in the drivers seat anymore.

The downside of this option is that while it is programatic, meaning it is how things get done in Washington, it offers no new ideas, just checks against the ruling majority. While going along works in the short term, it is not the way to build a strong party in the long run. No one wants a pale copy of the Democrats when an original will do.

Option Three: Adaptation. The third and final approach is one that sees and acknowledges that the playing field has changed, but instead of simply going along with the new majority, it comes up with ideas of its own in light of the new reality. The person who personifies this approach is Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.

This option isn't interested in going to the barricades in some valiant struggle against socialism, but is willing to offer a credible conservative alternative. They are willing to look at issues like the environment and gay marriage, not as some liberal agenda, but because times have changed and these are issues people are concerned about.

The downside of this option is that offering alternatives takes some time is fraught with danger because it challenges the status quo. Trying to think of new policies takes a while to incubate. What is the conservative approach to global warming, or health care? These take time. Also, those who have a vested interest in the old order will find ways to try to shut reformers down, seeing them as heretics. The most common parallel is that of the New Democrats of the late 80s and early 90s. The rise of the Democratic Leadership Council was to find out how to be a Democrat in the Age of Reagan. Bill Clinton was able to find ways to achieve liberal ends using conservative means.

The upside is that this could lead the GOP out of its wilderness experience and into leadership. It could spark an intellectual revival in the GOP, where there is an interest in devising ways to solve national problems with conservative tools. Unlike the first option, it won't feel good at first, but in the long run, it would produce conservatives who feel good about themselves and the nation.

Of course, I am biased towards option three. While the media has been focused on the Conservative Political Action Committee, Rush Limbaugh and Joe the Plumber, I think there is a quiet interest in a more technical minded conservative that is interested in solving problems than in riling up the pack.

My own guess is that option three will be the route the GOP takes...eventually. It will, because you can only fill up on the empty rhetoric of a radio personality and a plumber from Toledo only so long.