Saturday, February 09, 2013

Snark hunt,m 2013: searching for moderate Republicans

It's probably another sign of the Apocalyse. But on the PBS Newshour "Political Wrap" segment Friday, not only was Mark Shields awake through the whole thing, he and and David "Bobo" Brooks both were actually pretty much making sense all the way through. Shields and Brooks on Drone Memo, Brennan Hearing, Syria 01/08/2013:

Not entirely of course, especially with Bobo in the picture, but still.

Bobo was making an effort to talk about the Establishment/Tea Party split among Republicans that the Beltway media have been having so much fun fantasizing about, while the Reps from the localities to the statehouses to Congress keep frantically ginning out the crazy. But even Bobo could barely keep it up. And he pretty much gave it up when he said that Rush Limbaugh was an "establishment" Republican. Yes, junkie bigot radio demagogue sleaze-monger and woman-hater Rush Limbaugh ranks as an "establishment" Republican.

Maybe the most remarkable part was that Bobo and Sleepy Mark agreed at one point that there was no sign of any substantive internal change in outlook within the Republican Party, that it would have to come from some yet-unidentified outside force.

Former Maine Democratic Congressman Tom Allen writes about the state of the Republican Party in Congress in Former congressman Tom Allen: GOP speaks a different language Salon 02/09/2013.

Salon's bio on Allen says, "Tom Allen represented Maine's First Congressional District from 1997-2009. He is now the president and CEO of the American Association of Publishers." In other words, a lobbyist and head of an industry group who can presumed to favor bipartisanship, especially on votes favoring their own business. The Salon article is excerpted from Dangerous Convictions: What's Really Wrong with the U.S. Congress (2013), a somewhat vague title. And his article does contain some of the kinds of comments we so often here from Democrats or Pod Pundits who by into the "both sides are at fault" view of Congressional dysfunction. Such as, "In short, partisan conservative media and its less influential imitators on the left are inviting their audiences to see the political world in black-and-white, conservative and liberal, good and bad, with the result that for the public and elected officials, it is harder to find common ground."

However, the article is consistent with this comment from an Amazon reviewer using the handle "grayghost" who writes in Allen on target 01/16/2013:

Tom Allen has written an important work about why Washington is not working. Drawing on his experience as a five term Congressman from Maine, the moderate Democrat details how the divide between Republicans and Democrats has grown to be all but unbridgeable. Allen lays most of the blame squarely on the ideologues of the Republican Party who refuse to treat fact seriously or engage in real dialogue. His chapters on the major problems he encountered: the budget, the war in Iraq, healthcare, and climate change are the best concise treatment of theses issues in the George W. Bush era that I have seen. They are a significant indictment of Bush and his Congressional allies.
I certainly wouldn't quarrel with this characterization, "The inability to compromise is primarily driven by the growing ideological rigidity of Republicans, which has become hostile to almost any form of government action across a wide range of disparate subjects."

Allen sketches out the history of how today's Republican Party evolved, even though they're not so hot on the idea of "evolution":

A second important factor was the organization and funding by wealthy American conservatives of right-wing think tanks, university chairs, and ultimately mass media, talk radio, and Fox News. The Fox News Channel has captured a significant portion of the American public with its emotional, opinionated commentary, but it is frequently judged the least accuate [sic] news channel with the least well-informed audience.

Another factor was the explicit strategy developed by Newt Gingrich when he entered the House of Representatives in 1978 — a strategy designed to win power for his party by portraying Congress as a corrupt institution not to be trusted by people outside of Washington. In his first term in Congress, Gingrich participated in a program of the American Enterprise Institute tracking members of Congress over several years. He had from the beginning a fully formed strategy for winning control of the House by intensifying “public hatred of Congress” so the voters would throw out the majority Democrats. It was a remarkably successful political strategy but achieved at great social cost.
He gives us an important reminder about the real ideological orientation of Shrub Bush, who was elected campaigned in 2000 as a "compassionate conservative":

His election [sic] in 2000 was, in hindsight, stage two of the Newt Gingrich revolution. Senator Lincoln Chafee (R.-R.I.) recalled, shortly after Bush's election, that Dick Cheney quickly laid out to a small group of moderate Senate Republicans, "a shockingly divisive political agenda for the new Bush administration, glossing over nearly every pledge the Republican ticket had made to the American voter." In his first term, President Bush abandoned international treaties, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and drove through two massive tax cuts that primarily benefitted wealthy Americans.
The other side of the story, of course, is that a Democratic Party that is increasingly more and more dominated by big money, especially from the finance industry, and has gotten generally indifferent to responding to its base voters have enabled Republican radicalism when they could have mitigate it in many cases.

The fact that Allen's refers to George W. Bush's selection as President by the Supreme Court in 2000 as his "election" is a symptom of how hard the Democrats are finding it to come to grips with today's Radical Republicanism. The Supreme Court's disgraceful Bush v. Gore decision that overrode Al Gore's actual election as President was a key turning point in both American history and in the Republicans' radicalization. They say the Democrats let this travesty go by without a major protest and without availing themselves of their legal option to challenge the election in Congress, as Michael Moore reminded us so clearly in the opening minutes of Fahrenheit 911.

President Obama has largely embodied this enabling attitude, with his seeming fixation on bipartisanship and especially his Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicare. Which, given the current state of the two parties, would mean putting those programs in the fast lane to being abolished. He currently has two domestic priorities, gun regulation and immigration, that he could use to further marginalize the GOP to the benefit of the Democrats. If that happens, it will be because his Party forced him into a more confrontational stance than he would prefer.

And in the NRA and the antiabortion movement, he has two major targets that he could use to highlight the radicalism of the present-day Republican Party in dramatic ways.

Instead, he empowers the far-right fundamentalists and legitimizes their political view by such gestures as appearing at the National Prayer Breakfast and serving up platitudes other than to challenge the morality of assault-weapon proliferation and the antiabortion movements encouragement of violence and minimizing the harm of rape.

Plus, Obama is embracing austerity politics that not only will leave unemployment unacceptably and unnecessarily high for an extended period of time, and carry a high risk of throwing the economy back into recession.

With a Democratic Party acting this way, the Republicans have limited incentive to reform anything but their marketing. From the "Political Wrap" segment in the video above:

DAVID BROOKS: People don't change.

So I read a study this week where they took a look at candidates. What happens when they get -- when their district shifts and their district, say, becomes more moderate? Do the candidates themselves become more moderate? The answer is no. People don't change. So, if you are looking for people atop the Republican Party to lead the change of changing the party, that is just not going to happen.

It's going to be people out in the states. It's going to be people off in a new wing that's going to rise up and change the party from the outside.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the problem -- I agree with David.

But the problem is, they can move on immigration. And that's a -- there's a legislative response. They say, look, we are moving. But how do you do that with younger voters? I mean, you're a party looking for heretics, rather than converts, which is what they have been. They have been an unhappy group. They're not welcoming.
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