Thursday, February 25, 2010

Faux Bipartisanship

The whole notion of bipartisanship has taken a beating these days from folks on the left and the right. Indeed, in this age of hyper-partisanship, folks tend to punish those who dare cooperate with the other side.

But there is still a desire among many in the Great American Middle for some form of bipartisanship, a way where the two sides can come together and make a deal that will benefit all of America.

So, what does a politician do to fulfill that desire? You play pretend bipartisanship and hope no one notices its just for show. That's the basis of a recent Political article which focuses on the healthcare debate and how both the left and the right have done what they can to thrwart real bipartisanship.

Carrie Budhof Brown shows how outside forces killed the one real chance for bipartisanship on reforming health care:
In fact, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana tried the bipartisan route. He spent almost nine months trying to bring a handful of Republicans onto the bill, and had the support of Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid in doing it — to an extent. The theory was that if Baucus could persuade Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to come on board, other Republicans in both chambers would follow.

Until July, the approach looked promising. But a cascade of decisions threw it off course.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) told conservative activists that they needed to make health care Obama’s Waterloo, infuriating Democrats who saw the remarks as the first public sign that Republicans had no plans to support the bill.

It was around this time that Baucus faced increased pressure from Reid and the White House to wrap up the Gang of Six negotiations, angering Republicans who didn’t want to be rushed.

But the Republicans involved in talks — Snowe, Grassley and Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming — were also being squeezed. When it appeared that the group was nearing a compromise, McConnell reined them in, extracting guarantees from Grassley and Enzi that they would not sign off on a deal without consent from the caucus, according to congressional aides.

Partisans on both sides charge the other is not really engaging with the other. They present themselves as the pure and honest one, while the other side refuses to listen to them.

The whole game these days is to appear that you are trying to extend the olive branch, while at the same time reining in those who even dare to try to persue real bipartisanship.

The thing is, real bipartisanship means coming together, listen to each other and realizing that you aren't going to get the whole loaf. But in this age when what matters is to win, what matters is trying to make sure the other side gets nothing. It's the ultimate in zero-sum games.

I am probably one of the dreaded "Broderites" who thinks that real bipartisanship is a worthy thing. Why? Because even if one side wins a majority of seats in Congress and wins the White House, they have to contend with another side that also won seats. They might not have won the majority, but they were still elected by their districts to do a job. We are not a parlimentary system where the winner takes all. The winner might have advantages, but they still have to cooperate with the minority. Too many think that because one party might have a commanding majority, that they don't have to listen to the minority. But that is not how our govermental structure is set up. The minority might be less in number, but they have been elected in their states and districts. They have to be listened to and heeded.

Some of the blame also has to placed on a partisan public that does not want bipartisanship. What they want is for the "losing side" to basically get out of the way and shut up and through blogs and membership groups, they make sure that anyone who works with the other side is punished.

I don't have an answer for this. All I can say is that there needs to be a price paid for squashing bipartisanship. Until that happens, expect more staged showings of bipartisanship.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rise of the "Homocons"

I don't normally like to sites like Big Government or its sister site, Big Journalism. They tend to be a bit too bombastic for my tastes.

That said, this post by Bruce Carroll makes a strong point about the whole Ryan Sorba incident last weekend. He goes as far as saying that it was a "tipping point" within conservatism. I don't know if it has made that big of a difference, but I do think it is an important event. But as Carroll points out, many on the Gay Left tended to do what Andrew Sullivan did, focus on Sorba's incendiary comments on not on the response of the crowd.

There was a time that I scratched my head about something like this. I used to think that those on the Gay Left truly wanted to see an American Right that rid itself of homophobia. I still think there are a lot of people on the left that do want a homophobic-free Right, but many don't seem to care and want to focus on the dark side and nothing else.

It reminds me a scene from C.S. Lewis' last book in the Chronicles of Narnia, the Last Battle. In that book, several people were tossed into a dank stable. At least that's what the elves thought. For the others that were in the stable, they saw a wonderful meadow. They rejoiced at their surroundings, while the elves remained huddled in what they thought was a stable.

I think there are many that will still see conservatism as a hateful collection of individuals who plot to destroy gays. Of course such people exist, but there are others that are fighting to stand up to hatred with in conservatism. I don't know if what happened this last weekend made any difference or was a "tipping point." Nevertheless, it should be celebrated. Whenever people stand up against hatred, it should be welcomed, not ignored.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Young Conservative Doth Protest too Much?

I find it interesting that every time that I want to think that American conservatism is going down the tubes, something happens that gives me a spot of hope.

There was a lot of news made when the Conservative Political Action Conference allowed the John Birch Society to have a presence at the event. But another group was also allowed that might make some heads turn. GOProud, a gay conservative group which happened to split off from Log Cabin Republicans about a year ago, was welcomed to CPAC as well. Of course, that didn't please some folks. Ryan Sorba, a young man with a big chip on his shoulder, spoke out against GOProud and against homosexuality in general. You might expect that there were would a lot of cheers from the crowd, but that wasn't really what happened:

It's nice to hear that there were people at CPAC who rose to GOProud's defense. It's a reminder that not all is lost with American conservatism.

You might also want to read openly gay conservative Alex Knepper's meeting with Ryan Sorba. It's a hoot.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Mount Vernon: Forget About It!

David Frum is correct in criticizing the so-called "Mount Vernon Statement" of movement conservatives. He is correct that the document is just a rehashing of conservative nostrums and offers nothing to gays or minorities, let alone how to deal with the current economy.

But while he is correct in talking about this documents' shortcomings, I have a question to ask David:

Did you expect any different?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Evan Bayh is a Big Booboohead!

Tell us how you really feel, Matt:
Obviously, Evan Bayh’s never been my favorite Senator. And the more one learns about both the manner of his departure, and the thinking behind it, the clearer it is why. Simply put: He’s an immoral person who conducts his affairs in public life with a callous disregard for the impact of his decisions on human welfare. He’s sad he’s not going to be president? He doesn’t like liberal activists? He finds senate life annoying? Well, boo-hoo. We all shed a tear.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Can Big Red Deal With Big Blue?

Walter Russell Mead has written two pieces of work that explains the current political situation. In his first piece, he writes about the "Blue Model," the American Social Contract that governed America from the end of World War II until the 1970s.

In the old system, both blue collar and white collar workers hold stable jobs, a professional career civil service administers a growing state, with living standards for all social classes steadily rising while the gaps between the classes remain fairly stable, and with an increasing ’social dividend’ being paid out in various forms: longer vacations, more and cheaper state-supported education, earlier retirement, shorter work weeks and so on. Graduate from high school and you were pretty much guaranteed lifetime employment in a job that gave you a comfortable lower middle class lifestyle; graduate from college and you would be better paid and equally secure.

Life would just go on getting better. From generation to generation we would live a life of incremental improvements — the details of life would keep getting better but the broad outlines of our society would stay the same. The advanced industrial democracies of had in fact reached the ‘end of history’: this is what ‘developed’ human society looked like and there would be no more radical changes because the picture had fully developed.

But things didn't get better and better. By the 1970s, the Blue Model broke down and it has been dying a slow death since. This is a problem for the Democrats, since this model benefited them the most. You can basically see the end of the Democratic majority with the beginning of the end of the Blue Model.

In the next essay, Mead talks about "Feeding the Blue Beast." He picks up where he left off and notes how this breakdown is problematic for the Democrats:

The blue social model was a triumph of progressive social imagination and political organizing; for two generations it effectively reconciled capitalism with the demand for a better living standard and more security for the population at large.

The breakdown of the blue model is the core problem of American society today and the key to the troubles of the Democratic party. Blue states really are blue; the ‘progressive imagination’ remains staunchly blue, and blue model interest groups like public school teachers, government employees, the remnants of the private union movement and the much healthier labor movement among public employees shape and mostly fund what Howard Dean famously called ‘the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.’

Most Americans would like the blue model to stick around and are nostalgic for the security it once provided, but they understand that the great task of our times isn’t to save the blue model but to move on. The Democratic wing of the Democratic Party believes exactly the opposite: that the blue social model is the only way to go. If our city and state governments are groaning under the dead weight of inflated labor and pension costs, the only solution is to pump federal money into them somehow. If public schools aren’t working, they need more money — but seriously restructuring the system is out of bounds. If college and university tuition is exploding as the costs of education rapidly and continuously outpaces the general level of inflation, the only solution is to pump more money into the system while leaving it to operate much as it does.

Democratic policy is increasingly limited to one goal: feeding the blue beast. The great public-service providing institutions of our society — schools, universities, the health system, and above all government at municipal, state and federal levels — are built blue and think blue. The Democratic wing of the Democratic Party thinks its job is to make them bigger and keep them blue. Bringing the long green to Big Blue: that’s what it’s all about.

Three problems: we can’t afford it, people know that, and we desperately need the things that Big Blue can’t give us.

So, we need the services that Big Blue once gave us. We still need good schools. People also want to be able to afford health care. We want our elderly to not be impoverished. We want clean water, good highways and the like. But we can't pay for them in the way we used to. We can't just tax our way to prosperity when as Mead notes, people are no longer in secure jobs. And yet we need them.

Mead goes on to note that one of the reasons that we have a Tea Party movement is because we are worried as a public about how to pay for government services. But the Tea Party fails in that it proposes nothing as an alternative.

Mead ends his second essay with a pointed question for the Dems, but it is also a question aimed at Republicans:

Can the Democrats unshackle themselves from their degrading and destructive servitude to the blue beast before the Republicans build a new cohort of smart policy wonks with a practical vision for the future? Can either party develop the capacity for innovative leadership before the social and economic dysfunction of the current system drives us into a massive social and financial crisis?

So, here is my question: can the Republicans come up with a new social contract, a "Red Model?" Can we design a social model that is suited for this time and age?

I think Paul Ryan's "Roadmap" is a start. I have some issues with it, but he is trying to create a new social model based on conservative principles. He is building up instead of just tearing down as the Tea Partiers are wont to do.

But there needs to be more conservative thinkers out there who can think about these issues. Opposition to Obama and the Democrats can only go so far. We need to propose our own vision for a new social contract.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Centrists + Ideas= GOP Resurgence

This is a response to a post written by ED Kain at Frum Forum. He was responding a post I wrote at Frum Forum as well.

E.D. : You are correct that any Republican revival is not going to come by simply accepting moderates into the GOP coalition. While we have an important heritage in the GOP, simply having more Scott Browns is not going to make the Republicans a competitive party. Republicans not only need to have a Big Tent of political views, but also a Big Tent of political ideas that will make people take notice.

Paul Ryan's alternative budget is a good idea and starting point on asking how a conservative party should govern now. He has taken the time to come up with ideas for health care reform and entitlement reform. Ryan is not a moderate, but he has an idea that might well appeal to moderates and it takes the GOP beyond it's "party of no" image.

While many have talked about the shrinking Republican tent when it comes to how it treats moderates, there is also a shrinking tent of ideas. As much as we might want to make fun of Democrats for employing 1970s ideas to solve current issues, many in the GOP act like it's 1980 all over again. We think that tax cuts are the answer for any problem, even when they might not work in this situation. We need new ideas for a new era. What does it mean to be a Republican or a conservative in the 21st century?

Which brings me back to the original statement by David Frum: the need for a CPAC of the center-right. We need to have a place, an event that welcomes all sorts of people: libertarians, crunchy cons, moderates and the rest and also welcomes all sorts of new ideas on how to govern. In a way, it's trying to do what Ronald Reagan did in the 70s: create a new Republican party that welcomed moderates, but also was a breeding ground for new conservative ideas.

So, I'm all for a new CPAC or CENPAC or whatever you call it and E.D, I like you to be a part of it. Maybe the way to rebuild the GOP is by moderates like myself working with wonkish conservatives like yourself, E.D.

It's worth a shot.

Fred Kaplan's Republican Party

Newsweek's David Graham has a piece up on Slate's Fred Kaplan's plea for "responsible Republicans" to speak out against Sarah Palin.