Thursday, July 29, 2010

Do Republicans want to govern?

Type "Republican 2010 agenda" into google, and you know what you get? A lot of links to articles discussing whether Republicans will ever get an actual agenda. This seems strange to me. People running for office must have some idea of what they want to do to make government work and improve the lives of Americans, right?

Or not. This article by Richard E. Cohen appearing in Politico does a reasonable job summarizing the lack of focus to be currently found among Republicans, who allegedly have a shot at getting control of Congress this year.

"Republicans want to assure voters that they will change direction if they take control of the House in November... Yet there will be no grand agenda rollout on the Capitol steps in Washington this fall, as Republicans did with the Contract With America in 1994."

Cohen makes an interesting point when discussing the very few things that the Republican leadership has been willing to say about the detail of their policies.

"those details fall short of compelling economic policy — and some of the grass-roots concepts will need to be reined in by Republican leaders.

On the America Speaking Out website, some of the leading ideas for job creation are outside the political mainstream, including elimination of minimum-wage laws and deportation of all illegal immigrants."

"Grass-roots concepts"
that "will need to be reined in by Republican leaders"? Brother, you ain't kidding. Out in the heartland, Republicans have ideas all right. And I don't think it's an overstatement to say that those ideas are more about dogma than they are about problem solving.

House members Michele Bachmann and Steve King are two of the leading lights of the tea party movement. They have, quite literally, no legislative agenda. According to Bachmann, if Republicans will the House in November, "all we should do" is subpoena and investigate the Obama administration. Asked by reporters what specific laws he'd offer as a legislator carrying the tea party banner into the House, Steve King said the only thing he could think of was, "a law requiring members to cite the Constitution when sponsoring legislation."

Some of the other great ideas Republican leaders have to offer:

* Social security might have a long-term solvency problem? Force people to work until they're 70, and deny benefits to people with other income. Or just abolish social security.

* Racial strife a problem in America? Condemn the Civil Rights Act. (Until your opinions become unpopular. Then apologize for airing your views on television. After all, what right does the public have to know where candidates for public office stand on the issues?)

* Big Oil spilling petroleum all over the place? Time to deregulate the oil industry.

* Religious prejudice still troubling Americans? Announce that Islam is a cult.

* A woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape cannot obtain access to abortion? It's God's will.

* Scientists say that human activity is causing climate change that will have catastrophic effects? Announce that global warming doesn't exist.

* Controlled substances still an issue? Suggest the prohibition of alcohol. Wait...WHAT?!

To summarize, what Richard Cohen says in his article on the GOP agenda (or lack thereof) is a lot like what David Broder said in the Washington Post article I wrote about earlier this month. Specifically, that the Republicans need to "reign in the crazies." From what I can tell, journalists like to think that there's some kind of divide between the uninformed, kooky grass-roots elements of the Republican party and it's more sensible, serious leadership. But again, take a look at the source of opinions on the issues that I have linked above. You'll find House minority leader John Boehner, and high-profile Senate recruits Sharron Angle and Rand Paul. The good-government Republicans are all long retired. (There really is a lot of money in lobbying you know.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Republican party would be great, if it weren't for all those Republicans

There's an old Monty Python sketch that satirizes the tendency of mass media dilettantes to offer super-simplified solutions to complex problems:

How to Rid the World of all Known Diseases

John Cleese: "...this week on 'How to do it' we're going to show you how to play the flute, how to split an atom, how to construct a box girder bridge, how to irrigate the Sahara Desert and make vast new areas of land cultivatable, but first, here's Jackie to tell you all how to rid the world of all known diseases.
Eric Idle: Hello, Alan.
John Cleese: Hello, Jackie.
Eric Idle: Well, first of all become a doctor and discover a marvelous cure for something, and then, when the medical profession really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there'll never be any diseases ever again.
John Cleese: Thanks, Jackie. Great idea. How to play the flute. (picking up a flute) Well here we are. You blow there and you move your fingers up and down here.
Graham Chapman: Great, great, Alan. Well, next week we'll be showing you how black and white people can live together in peace and harmony, and Alan will be over in Moscow showing us how to reconcile the Russians and the Chinese. So, until next week, cheerio.

I thought of this sketch this week when I read a Washington Post article by David Broder entitled, "Buidling a More Positive Tea Party?"

To quote Broder's thoughts on the strategy the Republican party should take, "Building a majority coalition will require a strong, sensible platform. And a clear separation from the kooks and cranks who sank both (Democrat William Jennings) Bryan and (Republican Barry) Goldwater."

Broder's thoughts on the GOP are based on the conclusions of an article entitled Populism, American Style by Barry Olson of the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Olson believes that like the backers of Barry Goldwater in 1964, the tea party folks represent a point of view that will be, "viewed as odd and frightening by most voters," and that they might come across as, "wanting to lead victims in a violent battle against an implacable enemy." David Broder agrees with Olson when the latter suggests that the Republican party needs to take the more Reaganesque approach of avoiding, "the classical-populist trap of vilifying... political adversaries as outright enemies."

Maybe Broder and Olson are right about the desirability of a less strident course for the Republican party. But I'm afraid that in order to do what the two authors are suggesting the party would have to ignore most of its voter base, clamp a lid on its most hard-working and enthusiastic activists and show the door to its newest and most talked-about candidates. Do Olson and Broder think that the tea baggers are just an exceptionally vocal fringe element within the Republican party, and that most Republicans actually hold more moderate views? This is hardly the case. First of all, a recent Gallup poll lead that organization to suggest that, “Whether Tea Party supporters are a voting segment that is unique and distinct from the more traditional Republican conservative base, however, appears questionable.” Second of all, a recent poll of Republicans does not tend to suggest that the party is overflowing with sensible moderates whose opinions are in sharp contrast to the more radical tea baggers:

Only 42% of Republicans are confident that President Obama was born in the United States. 63% believe he is, "a socialist." 31% believe that Obama is, "a racist who hates white people."

Well, polls can indicate a lot of strange things, depending on how the questions are worded. Let's move on and take a look at what leading Republicans are saying today, and compare their statements to GOP policies of the past.

On immigration:
1984: President Reagan, "I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally."
2010: Senator Orrin Hatch condemns an Obama speech on immigration, calling it, "cynical political pandering," designed to, "give backdoor amnesty to illegal immigrants."

On the United Nations:
1956: The Republican platform calls for America to, "vigorously... support the United Nations."
2010: Both the Republican platform of Texas and wildly popular Congressman Ron Paul advocate the withdrawal of the U.S. from the U.N.

On the environment:
1970: President Nixon proposes legislation to create the Environmental Protection Agency.
2010: Republican Sharron Angle, the party's nominee for Senate in Nevada, and Rand Paul, the party's nominee for Senate in Kentucky, call for the EPA to be abolished.

On minimum wage:
1960: The Republican platform counts as an achievement its efforts to raise the Federal minimum wage.
2010: Tom Emmer, a leading candidate for the GOP's nomination for the gubernatorial race in Minnesota, call for lowering the minimum wage. Both Glenn Beck and John Stossel, leading conservative persons, have called for an end to the federal minimum wage.

On unemployment insurance:
1960: The Republican platform hails the GOP's success in extending unemployment insurance.
2010: Sharron Angle claims that extending unemployment insurance has, "spoiled our citizenry." Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay claims extending unemployment benefits, "keeps people from going and finding jobs."

And everything else:
1952: Future President Eisenhower: "Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."
2010: A tiny splinter group? Do you know any Republicans who agree with anything Eisenhower said in that quote?

And the more moderate Republicans that Broder and Olson are looking to for the party's salvation? Sorry, but they've already lost their bids for office to the tea baggers.

Senator Bob Bennett of Utah, who was denied renomination by the Republican party this year in favor of a more conservative candidate: "As I look out at the political landscape now, I find plenty of slogans on the Republican side, but not very many ideas," Bennett told The Ripon Society. "Indeed, if you raise specific ideas and solutions, as I’ve tried to do on health care with [Oregon Democratic Sen.] Ron Wyden, you are attacked with the same vigor as we’ve seen in American politics all the way back to slavery and polygamy; you are attacked as being a wimp, insufficiently pure, and unreliable."

South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis was also denied renomination this year in favor of a tea party candidate. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Inglis’ refusal to join in on the Obama-bashing of the far right played a big role in his landslide defeat on June 22. Leading up to the election, he frequently challenged voters who questioned the president’s citizenship or patriotism. At one town hall meeting, he was jeered for saying that (Glenn) Beck, a Fox News Channel host, is a divisive fearmonger. . . . Inglis said he was shocked during the health care votes as he watched protesters jeering Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who was beaten as a leading civil rights activist in the 1960s."

In conclusion, it's too late for "sensible" Republicans to separate themselves from, "the kooks and cranks." I'm afraid the inmates are already running the asylum.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Give 'em Enough Rope

It's become apparent that the best tactic for Democrats heading into this year's elections is to give Republicans lots of air time. Lately, if you hear the GOP leadership speaking one minute, you'll hear it apologizing and backpedaling the next.

When the Republicans were in ascendancy in the 1990s and 2000s, I recall that one thing they did well was to stay on message. In 1994, you didn't see conservatives touting the Contract for America on Monday, then backing away from their remarks on Tuesday. In 2000, it was clear that every Republican operative appearing on the cable news stations to spin nonsense about the recount in Florida had been given exactly the same talking points.

Today, things are different. For example, both GOP House leaders John Boehner and Joe Barton have found themselves on the defensive for their recent statements. As Rick Horowitz of the Janesville Gazette writes,

"Could John Boehner and Joe Barton really be undercover Democrats?...

With tens of thousands of barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf every day, with incalculable damage being done to the water and to those who rely on it for habitat, for livelihood, Joe Barton makes a public show of apologizing to the spewers. He’s “ashamed,” he announces to the cameras, that the Obama White House has secured a commitment from BP to set aside $20 billion to help make the region whole again.

A “shakedown,” Joe Barton calls it, as Republican strategists cringe. Who in his right mind—or even his far-right mind—would say such a thing? Would align his party with the spewers, and against the victims?

And then comes Boehner. With the jobless rate still high, with the economic recovery still faltering, with people coast to coast desperate for help, John Boehner weighs in. John Boehner sits before a camera and compares the financial-reform legislation nearing passage in Congress to “killing an ant with a nuclear weapon.”

“An ant.” That’s how John Boehner characterizes the financial meltdown, as Republican strategists start popping Valium by the fistful. Who in his right mind—or even his far-right mind—would say such a thing?"

But for John Boenher, remarks on financial reform were only one of several recent attacks of foot-in-mouth disease. The past few days have also seen him suggest that the retirement age for social security benefits should be raised to 70, and that those with other income should receive not benefits at all. These remarks will hardly endear him to America's most powerful voting block, senior citizens. Last but not least was Boehner's criticism of a new tax on tanning beds. That comes as pretty funny coming from a guy who's so in love with artificial tanning that he looks like an overgrown Oompa Loompa.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele is also in hot water this week, with fellow Republicans calling for his resignation after Steele's suggestion that the conflict in Afghanistan is, "a war of Obama's choosing."

But for some really far out remarks, we have to look to the Republican party's newest candidates for election. Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul expressed regret after appearing on the Rachel Maddow Show and stating that he doesn't support some aspects of the Civil Rights Act. Does he regret his remarks? No, of course not. He only regrets appearing on the show. Nevada's Sharron Angle is running against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Like Rand Paul, candidate Angle has recently felt the need to duck reporters due to some controversial statements. Among these are Angle's beliefs that social security should be "transitioned out," America should bring back prohibition of alcohol, that if Americans don't like what Congress is doing, they might consider, "Second Amendment remedies," and that if a woman should become pregnant as a result of rape she should not have access to abortion services, because her pregnancy is part of "God's Plan."

For the high-information voter, there are also the Republican state Party platforms, which include many planks that, while they may endear some of the GOP faithful, are wildly out of touch with the general public. Consider the platforms of the Republican parties of Montana and Texas, both of which include the charming goal of reestablishing archaic sodomy laws long since struck down by the Supreme Court, with the object of again making homosexuality a criminal offense.

And for one last dose of, "how Republican leaders can make themselves even more unpopular," we have only to look at the day-to-day actions of its Congressional leaders. Just this past week, GOP Senators filibustered a bill that would give aid to homeless veterans and their children.

Finally, I was intrigued this week by a statement from Senator Bob Bennett of Utah, who was denied renomination by the Republican party this year:

"As I look out at the political landscape now, I find plenty of slogans on the Republican side, but not very many ideas," Bennett told The Ripon Society. "Indeed, if you raise specific ideas and solutions, as I’ve tried to do on health care with [Oregon Democratic Sen.] Ron Wyden, you are attacked with the same vigor as we’ve seen in American politics all the way back to slavery and polygamy; you are attacked as being a wimp, insufficiently pure, and unreliable."

I'm sorry Bob, but I have to disagree somewhat. The quotes I've reviewed in this post show that today's Republican leaders have lots of ideas. All terrible ones.