Archive for category Tea Party
On Thad Cochran’s fourth birthday Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, sending the US into World War II. Like most Mississippians of that era, Cochran grew up a Democrat. In those days the south produced very conservative Democrats who eschewed the Republican party because it was the party of Abraham Lincoln. Cochran was a success at almost everything he undertook: he was an Eagle Scout, majored in Psychology (minored in Poli-Sci), served a stint in the Navy and ultimately graduated from the University of Mississippi Law School.
In the sixties the country was changing and Cochran recognized that the Republican party was increasingly reflecting the view of southern conservatives. He became one of the early converts to the GOP, winning a seat in the House of Representatives in 1972 in a close race.
After three terms in Congress Cochran successfully ran for the Senate, replacing retiring Democrat James Eastland. That made Cochran one of the first of the new breed of southern Republicans to get elected. Given the Democrats’ choice of George McGovern to run in 1972, the next decade would see a massive shift to the Republican party in the south.
Southern Democrats were in something of a civil war then. The establishment Democratic candidate opposing Cochran was Maurice Dantin. He was supported by Eastland and part of the good old boy southern Democratic tradition. Yet the Democrats were also now the party of the civil rights movement, and Charles Evers, a black liberal, ran as an independent. This split the Democratic vote and allowed Cochran to win with a plurality.
Time once labeled Cochran one of the most effective Senators. Always a behind the scenes “persuader,” he brought pork to Mississippi (he was a master of the earmark) and earned a strong 88% rating from the American Conservative Union. He developed considerable influence in both Mississippi and the Senate, and was generally well liked. In 1990 he ran unopposed, and after his narrow first win his margins were: 61-39, 100-0, 71-27, 85-13, and 61-39. He was never given a serious challenge in a state Republican primary.
Now as the GOP is engulfed in its own civil war, Cochran faced a surprisingly serious challenge from Tea Party backed State Senator Chris McDaniel. In the state primary, a candidate must win a majority to gain the nomination. In the first round, McDaniel won a plurality, defeating Cochran 49.57 – 48.88. That is enticingly close to a majority, but 50% + 1 vote is needed for a majority. In the second round, Cochran prevailed 50.9% to 49.1%.
This result was not expected. Most polls showed McDaniel comfortably ahead by 5 or 6%, with national groups questioning giving continued support to Cochran. McDaniel went into the day the favorite, and came out defeated. He is supposedly considering legal action against Cochran because Cochran’s team reached out to black voters and Democrats. In their mind a true conservative Republican was defeated because an old establishment Republican got support from black voters. It appears they are right – the numbers indicate that black voters probably did give Cochran his margin of victory. They may not have been Republican, but they didn’t like McDaniel’s views.
So what does Cochran’s victory mean? Well, coming so soon after Eric Cantor’s loss, it shows that the establishment is not dead, and the tea party has less influence on the Republican party than any time since its 2009 inception. There is a sense of desperation within the movement that their ideals are under threat from their own party leadership.
Cochran’s victory means that the GOP “civil war” is about to enter it’s final stage. The tea party/far right sees politics as good vs. evil. They do not want compromise and pragmatic governance, they are driven by ideology and many of them want a kind of political holy war – defeat the liberals completely and bring America back to their image of what should be/once was. That image is more nostalgic fantasy than reality, but they are convinced they are the only ones with the proper conception of what America should be.
When they thought they could dominate their party and defeat the Democrats, their disdain for RINOs (Republicans in name only) meant primary challenges and, more often than not, electoral defeat at the hands of the Democrats. This led the establishment to fight back – they can tolerate the extremists, but they can’t tolerate continual electoral defeat – and now the tea party realizes that they are a minority in their own party, and Eric Cantor notwithstanding, losing clout.
The last act of this civil war will be the tea party going all out to fight against the GOP leadership. It will either lead to a bitter primary season in 2016 as the Tea Party goes for the big prize – the Presidential nomination. Or if truly cut out, more radical elements will likely try a third party, convinced they are the future of the conservative movement – that the Grand Old Party is obsolete. Either way, the Tea Party will lose, and the Republican establishment will reassert control.
Ironically, this would be a Republican version of what helped bring Thad Cochran to Congress in 1972. The Democrats had been engaged in their own civil war thanks to the anti-war and civil rights movements. The 1968 Chicago convention started a fight that ended after a tortured 1972 Democratic Convention rejected party moderates and nominated the fiercely anti-war liberal George McGovern. This created widespread dissent within the party and the Democrats had one of their worst Presidential elections in history.
The good news for the Republicans is that if history is a guide, the election isn’t a direct threat to their holdings in the House and Senate. The House Democrats did lose 13 seats in 1972, but kept their majority. Senate Democrats actually gained two seats. People did not automatically take dissent with the Presidential candidate as a reason to distrust their own representative.
Thad Cochran’s career will thus bookend the two biggest internal civil wars the major US parties had in the post-war era: The Democrats in the late sixties and early seventies, followed by the Republicans since 2010. And he represents the side that wins those civil wars – the party establishment.
This my first post on “campaign 2014,’ analyzing the races and following the election cycle. One thing is certain from the start – 2014 is a lot different than 2010.
Some things are similar. Right now things are looking good for Republicans to make gains in the House and perhaps win the Senate. It is a midterm election, which usually brings a more conservative demographic to the polls, something also good for the GOP. President Obama’s job approval rating is below 50%, which usually means that his party is in trouble in any midterm. But there the similarities end. The differences are important and offer some optimism about what has been a dysfunctional political system.
1. The tea party is a spent force. In 2010 the tea party was surging! Anger over the passage of Obamacare was palpable, and rallies were being held across the country for a new movement to “take back America.” Entertainer Glenn Beck was at the height of his popularity, calling for a movement to fundamentally transform the US to more conservative/traditional values. Now Beck says he’s sick of politics and wants to produce movies.
Tea party approval is down at around 20%. More importantly, the anger, rage, and rallies have been replaced by typical political banter. In 2010 and 2012 the tea party actually hurt the GOP by producing candidates that could not win. Sharon Angle, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Christine O’Donnell and Ken Buck all lost races a moderate Republican would likely have won. That would have put the Senate at 50-50 today!
The good news for the Republicans is that tea party influence is waning, and it looks like strong establishment candidates have been recruited. The bad news is that they’ll lose some of the passion the stronger tea party brought to 2010; it isn’t likely to be any kind of massive wave election. But they now have a real shot at the Senate.
2. The trend lines are different
In April 2010 President Obama’s job approval was at about 50%. By election time it was down to 44%. In general, continued anger at an economy that had not started a real recovery, tea party passion, and a general sense that things were getting worse rather than better caused a backlash against Obama and the Democrats. Now the economy is poised to increase the rate of job growth in the summer, and President Obama’s approval is recovering from its lows with the rollout problems of Obamacare enrollment. Obama’s approval went as low as 40%, but has slowly recovered. As the story line becomes more positive about Obamacare, the Republican hope that the issue will drive the election is fading. The trend can’t be called good for the Democrats, but unlike 2010 it doesn’t suggest any sort of wave. It will be a normal election cycle.
3. Nothing is set in stone
In retrospect, 2010’s wave for the GOP was inevitable. A poor economy, a President with low approval ratings, anger and passion among the opposition in a midterm election which always sees a higher proportion of Republicans vote was a recipe for a certain GOP win. This year, events can still drive the election. Strong summer economic growth and more good Obamacare news might boost Democratic chances. A White House scandal could harm Democrats, as could new bad news about Obamacare. So as of April, what we don’t know about the 2014 election cycle far outweighs what we do know.
Will the Senate Go GOP?
Now that conspiracy theories about skewed polls have been demolished, even conservatives recognize the power behind Nate Silver’s prediction methods. Click the link and read his analysis – it’s the best you’ll find at this point, and he admits that it is very close, and a variety of things could skew the elections either way. At this point he predicts 50.8 Republicans and 49.2 Democrats. However, if you don’t want to read his in depth analysis, here is my perspective:
The Democrats hold a 55-45 majority. That means the Republicans have to pick up six seats. That is a tall order. 21 Democratic and 15 Republican seats are up for election (that’s more than 33 due to some special elections), which means that the Republicans have real opportunities. In Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia open seats (or in the case of Montana, recently filled by someone appointed by the Governor) are seen as almost certain to shift to the Republicans as these are strong red states. Two other open seats, Iowa and Georgia, will probably stay Democratic and Republican respectively.
That would put the Republicans at 48 states, three short of a majority. So far, only one Republican incumbent looks to be in real danger, that is ironically Mitch McConnell. Five Democratic Senators are in trouble, and one Democratic open seat (Michigan) has no clear favorite. So among those seven races, Republicans have to win four seats to gain a majority. That’s do-able, but not easy, especially in a normal election cycle.
First proviso: In 2012 North Dakota was considered certain Republican for most of the year until Democrat Heidi Heitkamp ran a surprisingly strong campaign and squeaked out a victory. So nothing is certain.
Second proviso: There may be surprises. Here in Maine Susan Collins is considered by most to be a very safe Republican hold. However, she’s receiving strong opposition from Democrat Sheena Bellows, who has shown surprising fundraising prowess and organizing skills. In Maine there is a lot of emotion against the incumbent Governor, meaning there is likely to be strong Democratic turnout. It’s not likely (Collins had 61% in 2008), but is possible, that Bellows could be a real threat to Collins. These are the kinds of “what ifs” that could benefit either party.
The polling now shows Democrats Kay Hagan (NC), Mary Landrieu (LA) and Mark Pryor (AR) in the most trouble – but all are very close. Mitch McConnell looks to be in trouble in Kentucky. Democrats Begich (AK) and Udall (CO) have close races, but look better positioned.
Here’s the problem for the Republicans: Incumbents do have a tendency to pull out close elections. Mary Landrieu was endangered back in 2008 but ended up with a comfortable 7 point victory. To be sure, that was a Presidential election year and she benefited from the higher turnout, but it’s always dangerous to underestimate an incumbent.
So, given that this is a ‘normal election cycle’ I suspect that the Republicans will fall short of gaining a majority – though they are likely to gain seats. A 50-50 Senate is a real possibility. Joe Biden, as President of the Senate (an official role of the Vice President) would have the deciding vote, but if the Democrats held on to that slim of a majority they’d be susceptible to losing it should a member die or resign. At this point, though, the battle for the Senate looks to be the biggest 2014 election story.
The right wing has been obsessed with doing all they can to vilify and attack Obama. But if you pay attention these attacks are either broad and empty (personal attacks on him, his experience or motives) or simply wrong. The right wing was all over Obama because Putin attacked Crimea, showing real ignorance about Russian interest and world affairs, for example.
My goal here is not to argue against the babble on talk radio or the right wing blogosphere, but point out that President Obama is amassing a record that all but assures that his Presidency will be remembered as not only a success, but one of the greatest. The reasons full into four categories: 1) Policy success, including fundamental changes in the nature of public policy; 2) A successful foreign policy, shifting US interests to adjust to new political realities while extricating the US from two painful wars; 3) Economic success, preserving through the deepest economic crisis since the great depression; and 4) Personal and cultural factors – who he is, and the shifting culture of the times.
Domestic Policy: The White House was almost giddy as enrollments in Obamacare reached over 7 million, a number nobody thought they’d reach after the problems with the website roll out last year. It is almost inconceivable that this law will be repealed – the cost and disruption of doing so would be immense, and it would create a massive health care crisis. There will be reforms; once the GOP realizes the law is here to stay they’ll work on fixing problems in it rather than waging ideological jihad. But President Obama did what Nixon, Carter, and Clinton all failed to do: achieve a major health care overall to expand coverage to tens of millions (ultimately) uninsured, and slow the rate of health care cost increases.
Obama has amassed a series of other major policy victories that often get neglected, but will shape the nature of US politics in the 21st Century. He turned around the auto industry which stood on the brink of collapse in 2009. He got an economic stimulus package passed that started creating jobs, including for the first time in decades an increase in manufacturing jobs. Wall Street reform is major improvement on what we had before, and likely will protect the US from the kind of Wall Street induced crisis like that of 2008. Relatedly, the recapitalization of banks, while controversial, avoided an entire collapse of the credit market in the US and allowed for a quicker recovery than I expected – I thought in 2008 we were looking at a decade before the economy would come back.
He repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and his justice department gave considerable support to the growing move to legalize gay marriage by recognizing such marriages at the federal level, being on the right side of an irreversible cultural shift. He also worked to get the banks out of the student loan business, increase Pell grants, and make student loans easier and more accessible at a time when education is becoming more expensive. Also under Obama’s stewardship the US became the world’s leading producer of natural gas and oil for the first time since the early 70s.
Other policies involve significant education reform, toughening fuel efficiency standards, major credit card reform, improved veterans benefits, food safety, an emphasis on nutrition that may be turning around the obesity epidemic among the youth, federal regulation of tobacco, expanded national park service, massive investment in green technology (which will pay benefits long after Obama leaves office), new sentencing guidelines, and more. Obama has reshaped the policy landscape. That’s one reason the right is so beside itself hating him: he’s an effective leader that has altered the political environment and put the US on a fundamentally different path than had been the case six years ago.
Foreign Policy. The US has undertaken a quiet but very successful shift in foreign policy, including military downsizing, the Asian pivot, support for nascent democratic movements in the Mideast, and an effective effort to collaborate on international financial regulations. He ended the war in Iraq and is ending US involvement in Afghanistan, reoriented US missile defense, helped topple Gaddafi in Libya, and supported South Sudan independence. Osama Bin Laden was eliminated, and al qaeda is a shadow of what it was in 2008. Due to unprecedented cooperation between countries (even ones not exactly friendly with each other) on intelligence about terrorism, terrorism has gone from being a threat feared by Americans daily to just a nuisance.
Perhaps most importantly by ending torture policies and having two very capable Secretaries of State – Hillary Clinton and John Kerry – US prestige and clout is at its highest point since the end of the Cold War. President Obama is respected internationally, and has shown himself capable of engineering significant breakthroughs with Iran and – if reports are right – soon in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. When people claim that Putin’s taking the Crimea is a failure of Obama, they are grasping at straws. That is, as I noted, a sign of Putin’s weakness and desperation. Obama has reinvigorated US international leadership.
Economic success. When President Obama took office, the US was bleeding jobs, and the budget was out of control. Now the deficit is far lower than anyone predicted (federal spending has grown much more slowly than during the Bush Administration), and more jobs have been created than during the entire Bush Administration when the US was experiencing a bubble economy. The economy looks set to take off with increased job creation this summer, meaning that the book ends of Obama’s Presidency will be an inherited economic crisis of immense proportions at the start, and a growing and revived economy by the end.
Finally, when the GOP tried to hold the US economy hostage on the debt ceiling, Obama starred them down, refused to bend, and ultimately the GOP was forced into a humiliating retreat, being blamed for a government shut down, a downgrade in the US credit rating, and playing Russian roulette with US jobs. That was an example of the successful leadership that defines Obama’s stewardship of the economy.
Personal/cultural factors: Although the right has tried to find one, Obama has had a clean and scandal-free Presidency. He has shown himself to be a strong personal leader, using speeches, visits, and his own influence to guide policy. He is, of course, the first black President, and reflects an America that is more cosmopolitan, tolerant, and diverse. Just 20 years ago it would have been inconceivable that a black man named Barack Hussein Obama could win the Presidency.
The so-called Tea Party in the US, made up of mostly older white folk (my demographic), reflects shock at the scope of this change. They believe they are losing America to some strange force which Obama – the black President with the funny name maybe born in Kenya – personifies. He’s not “one of us,” he went to a radical church, he travels, he’s well educated, he’s not a good old boy like “W”. In that, Obama is indeed symbolic the emerging culture shift. The process is just beginning, and Obama is destined to be associated with these changes. He took office as the old order collapsed in an economic crisis and failed wars; he’ll leave office with the country revived and heading down a different path. He symbolizes a pivot to a new direction for the 21st Century.
Just as most people now forget the attacks on Reagan by the left, or the vicious attacks on Clinton by the right – the two are both remembered fondly by most Americans – the attacks on Obama will fade from the collective memory. Within ten or twenty years it’ll be clear that his Presidency was not only successful, but ranks alongside America’s greatest Presidents.
Republicans and Democrats increasingly seem to be in separate worlds. Reality is never objectively perceived “as it is.” It is always interpreted through ones’ perspective, a prism of beliefs and past experiences. Yet most people are convinced reality is as they perceive it, they believe they are being objective and clear, meaning that those who think differently are somehow flawed. They may be stupid, dishonest, disingenuous, or have some kind of nefarious belief system. The US political system depends on a smaller class of people, those who can understand diverse perspectives, and navigate to a position of common ground – even if it’s a option all can barely life with.
I’m not writing to praise Senator Collins’ political views or positions. I agree with her on some things, disagree on others. But I do praise the fact that she is one of those able to try to work with people of different views to craft solutions to problems – to have the intellectual capacity for multidimensional thinking, rather than the true believer mentality of the ideologues.
As I write this a wild circus is playing out in Washington DC. As Senators Reid and McConnell, both who like Collins see past ideological cages, near a compromise, an angry house demands to pass a bill with no chance of support from the Senate or White House. But as they plan for an evening vote, apparently they can’t come up with anything. Confusion reigns! Now it sounds like no vote will occur.
Reading the quotes of the Republican tea party Congressmen is like reading quotes from die hard communists during the Cold War. They have their ideological world view, and anything not falling within it is, well, a ‘threat to freedom,’ ‘demolishes the Constitution’, or some such silliness.
Speaker Boehner, who is also able to bridge diverse perspectives, at this point has to find a way to balance an out of control House, the need to solve the problem, and the views from the Senate and White House. He doesn’t appear up to the task – perhaps no one is. It appears that the lunatics have taken over the asylum!
Consider David Vitter, (R-La)’s defense of the shutdown: “Approximately 15,000 EPA employees are furloughed, making it less likely fake CIA agents at EPA will be ripping off the taxpayer.” Sure – while people in the Pentagon are holding food drives for furloughed employees, Vitter sees the government as some pack of demons.
Consider Collins: “I would encourage people, my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both the Senate and the House, to take a look at the proposal that we’ve been working on. I also think that the Senate needs to act first, and that there’s more chance of an agreement being reached in the Senate and we need to lead.” You can just hear the tea party folk hissing at her “betrayal of principle.”
But Collins is right about what it takes. The Democrats made their point earlier in the week when they resurrected demands to roll back the sequester. If the Republicans want to “negotiate” before opening the government or raising the debt limit, the negotiation can’t be from “the status quo” to closer to where they are – that’s hostage taking. The negotiation has to be from the Democratic starting point, which is precisely what Reid demonstrated!
From there Susan Collins got involved and crafted a bipartisan plan. It didn’t pass muster, but Reid and McConnell took over from there, and it appeared we were on track to get an agreement. It would give the GOP a face saving out, but the House Republicans would have fought a quixotic cause, turning the country against them and making the tea party look like a different kind of crazy.
Simply, blinded by ideology they felt justified making outrageous demands, believing they were RIGHT and fighting on PRINCIPLE! They scoff at those who compromise as somehow “compromising principles,” not recognizing that it is a kind of psychological malady to think one needs the world to adhere to his or her principles in order to be true to them. Then as defeat became inevitable and the scope of the damage they’ve done to their party, themselves, their movement and perhaps the country became clear, they veered off in numerous directions.
So tonight meetings continue. Susan Collins is working behind the scenes, still a major force. McConnell and Reid are talking – all recognize the scope of the problem. Still, the real issue is not the debt ceiling or shutdown, but how could we let such a dysfunctional group of Congresspeople veer the country so close to catastrophe? How could it be that people like Louie Gohmert, who said that President Obama should be impeached if the country defaults (even if his party is the cause of the default) – he’s the same guy who said terrorists were having babies in the US so the babies could commit terrorist acts in 18 years and that John McCain supports al qaeda – can be as influential as Collins?
Republican Pete King (R-NY) put it best: “This party is going nuts…Even if this bill passed tonight, what would it have done? After shutting down the government for two and a half weeks, laying off 800,000 people, all the damage we caused, all we would end up doing was taking away health insurance from congressional employees. That’s it? That’s what you go to war for? That’s what we shut down the United States government for?”
I predict they’ll find a way out and pass an agreement that the House will have to swallow. More important for our future is to elect people with the insight to recognize that our system welcomes political conflict as long as the participants are able to recognize the legitimacy of diverse opinions. Because if the tea party mentality takes root – and a similar way of extremist thinking grows on the left – our Republic will be on a downward spiral.
In 1995 and into 1996 the government shut down after President Clinton vetoed budgets sent to him from the Republican House and Senate. The first shut down was from November 14-19, 1995, followed by a second from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996. The Republicans suffered politically from that shutdown, and their case was better then than it is now.
So in 1995 both houses of Congress were united in sending the President a budget to fund the government. The President vetoed the budget. The President does have veto power, but the Republicans then could make a strong case that they represented the will of the people in both houses. Moreover, the reason the shutdown didn’t start until November 14th was because a continuing resolution was passed to extend spending from October 1 to November 13th to give them time to settle differences before the shut down.
At that time it was appropriate for Clinton to negotiate. Congress was united on a budget and his veto prevented it from becoming law. In that since his veto was as much to blame for the shutdown as the GOP budget — It was a real conflict over the scope of spending, and the inability of the two sides to agree led to an impasse that shut down the government. Today’s shutdown is nothing like that, it is a small group of House Republicans trying to use it to force the President to delay Obamacare. Already it’s clear that cooler heads in the GOP have recognized that such a demand was over the top – but it’s hard to stand down from a battle once its started.
But while it may be clear why the GOP is being hurt by this shutdown, why were Republicans blamed in 1995? That shut down looks triggered by a Presidential veto, not a refusal to vote! The reason is that the GOP appeared too eager for confrontation, with Speaker Gingrich infamously saying “Which of the two of us do you think worries more about the government not showing up?” That played well to Republican stalwarts, but seemed bizarre to most people who simply wanted things to get back to normal. There was also a sense that the Republicans, and in particular speaker Gingrich, had personal motives:
While the shutdown was underway, President Clinton did not talk to Gingrich on the flight to the funeral of Yitzak Rabin. That irked Gingrich who complained that the President didn’t allow a meeting, and in fact made him exit from the back, separate from the President. This almost assuredly was not the cause of the shutdown, but it fed into the idea that it wasn’t serious – that the Republicans were just trying to get Clinton. Compare that with quotes coming from the GOP this shutdown, and if anything their reputation is worse than it was in 1996; the only good news for the GOP is that Speaker Boehner is more careful in his sound bites than Newt was.
Back in 1995 after six days of government shutdown they passed a temporary spending measure that reopened government but didn’t resolve the dispute. That led to the second shutdown, which lasted 22 days. It was settled by a balanced budget agreement that included a mix of spending cuts and tax increases (yes, the Republicans agreed to tax increases). In comparison to today’s tea party wing of the GOP, Newt Gingrich appears as a reasoned moderate.
The impact on President Clinton was clear – his approval rating dropped from 51% to 42%, even as the country blamed Republicans for the shutdown by a margin of 46% blaming the GOP to 27% blaming Clinton. During the shutdown most Americans were disgusted with both sides, especially as the shutdown occurred over Christmas.
But after the shutdown, President Clinton emerged a clear winner. He had been seen as a likely one term President in mid-1995, but after the shutdown he looked stronger and ended up gliding to an easy victory in the 1996 election. The Republican House of Representatives did not suffer much, losing only three seats.
Still, the mood of the country shifted, and Clinton emerged as a very popular President.
But think about it – that shutdown happened after both sides passed measures designed to give them more time to settle legitimate differences on the budget. It happened because the President has veto power. And the public blamed and punished the side whose message was mixed and hostile, ultimately rewarding the President. The GOP was left blaming the media.
That scenario is playing out again. The good news: Americans don’t like confrontation of a sort that disrupts our routine and is embarrassing for our political system. They’re smart enough to realize that pushing the country into shutdown mode (or default mode) is absurd. I suspect neither party will want to travel down this path again any time soon, and the extremists who pushed for this may find themselves losing political clout after all is said and done.
“We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” ” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.)
In a thought provoking piece in The New Republic, John Judis argues that the Republican party is causing one of the worst crises in American history. “Welcome to Weimar America,” he chides before launching into an entertaining and persuasive reflection on American history and the roots of the current crisis. While I’ve diagnosed the “tea party” as a nostalgic movement resenting the changes in American demography and culture, Judis argues its actually a continuation of earlier movements, including the Calhounist nullification movement that led to civil war.
We’re not likely to have civil war, but there is a real danger that the current crisis reflects growing political fragmentation destined to weaken both American democracy and strength.
But Weimar America? The electoral system of the United States works against the kind of extreme fragmentation of the German system before the rise of the Third Reich. The Weimar Republic was a straight proportional representation system which allowed dozens of parties to compete and get representation in the Reichstag. That required a Chancellor gain support from a large number of parties before being able to control a majority bloc of the parliament and govern. That worked OK until 1929, then after the Great Depression hit Germany became ungovernable. For years no government could form and President Hindenburg ruled by emergency decree. Adolf Hitler rode the unrest, instability and confusion to power, even though he never actually was elected by a majority in a free election.
That won’t happen here. Our system of single member districts assures we’re likely to stay a two party system; it’s a structural feature of how we run elections, and it does create a kind of stability. Yet other aspects of our system of government create possibilities that make the Weimar metaphor plausible. Since we do have a government divided between the executive and legislative branches (not the norm in most democracies), and the legislative branch is divided into two separate bodies of independent power, it is possible that if the culture of compromise and tradition is broken, gridlock and division could become the norm. That would destroy the essence of systemic stability that has brought us freedom and prosperity.
“Republicans have to realize how many significant gains we’ve made over the last three years, and we have, not only in cutting spending but in really turning the tide on other things. We can’t lose all that when there’s no connection now between the shutdown and the funding of Obamacare. I think now it’s a lot about pride.” Dennis Ross (R-Fl)
Ross, like other Republicans skeptical of the tactics being undertaken, recognize that the shut down and threats to default are being taken by people who have no clue what those things mean. They mutter things like “Oh, good, shut down that horrible government,” not recognizing the real consequences for the country. “The debt’s too high, let’s not increase the debt limit,” some bemoan, utterly clueless to what the impact would be of going into default. These people aren’t stupid, they’re ignorant. They are so blinded by ideology that they don’t take the time to study the real implications of what’s happening.
Luckily, John Boehner does not fit into that category. Yet he’s dealing to what one pundit called, a Republican civil war. Both parties have their ideological extremes, but usually they are kept in check by the establishment center. The extremists hate the pragmatic centrists because they “compromise on principle” and aren’t driven by ideological fervor, but they’re the ones that assure stable governance. The extremes pressure the centrists and that’s important, but in the GOP they’ve taken over the party.
And they’re mad, certain they are right, and they don’t care about the system because they’ve decided it’s “crashing and burning” anyway, and only big government lovers would suffer if the whole thing collapsed (since presumably a more “pure” America would rise from the dust). OK, not all are that extreme, but the mix of extremism and ignorance has allowed one party to put the country and the world dangerously close to catastrophe over….pride. Being ‘disrespected.’ Trying to change a law they couldn’t change the usual way.
As noted last week, the President cannot let that tactic work. That would be damaging to the Republic in the long term; as bad as the short term consequences are, it would really become Weimar America if parties started to make these games the norm. Yes, there have been government shut downs before, but the circumstances here are unique.
So the ball’s in Boehner’s court. He has to find a way to walk the tightrope of avoiding all out insurrection from his tea party wing, but not being the man who dashed the American dream by refusing to hold a vote. He understands the consequences. While Obama can’t negotiate, perhaps he can give Boehner a face saving way out. Perhaps Harry Reid and Boehner can figure out a path that gives Boehner “peace with honor.” Because right now the Republicans are risking damaging the country immensely at a time we least need it. This has to end sooner rather than later.
House Republicans are miffed that the President refuses to negotiate with them about the government shut down. “He’s willing to talk with Iran, why not us,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell bemoaned. Yet the truth of the matter is that there is nothing to negotiate. For the good of the political process, for the sake of future Presidents Republican and Democratic, and for the country, the President must remain resolute.
The Republicans are trying to gut or delay the Affordable Care Act, and using a threat to shut down the government as a means of doing so. That is, a group of people do not like a law that was passed a few years ago, and are threatening the entire country’s economy and well being in order to try to stop that law. That’s not how you do it.
In a Democratic Republic, if you don’t like a law you make the case to the public. You get your people elected, and then you change or rescind the law. You do it through a constitutional process whereby the House and Senate vote, confer, and then pass a bill. The President can sign or veto it. Congress can override the veto if they have the votes.
In this case, the 2012 election had Obamacare as a main component of the campaign. Candidate Romney vowed to rescind or at least dramatically alter the act if elected, the President vowed to maintain it. The votes were counted and the President won by a large margin. The Democrats gained seats in the Senate. And though Republicans took the majority in the House, more votes for the House went to Democrats than Republicans.
If it becomes possible for a minority to get their way and undercut laws simply by threatening to shut down the government, a horrible precedent will be set. Rather than letting the democratic process operate, dangerous and destructive games of chicken will become common place. Today it may be the GOP and the Affordable Care Act, but sometime in the future the Democrats might threaten to do the same to stop changes in Social Security.
It’s even worse than that. If the Speaker of the House allowed a free vote on conscience, the government shutdown would be averted. A number of Republicans disagree with the extremist approach being taken. But they are being silenced by a large minority, which has not only stymied the legislative process, but put the world economy at risk.
Whatever one’s view on Obamacare, there should be agreement that blackmail and threats to the very fabric of our country are not the way to oppose it. A case in point: on October 1, the first day that exchanges were up to sell insurance for Obamacare, lots of glitches and problems arose. The GOP could use that in their favor to argue against Obamacare. Instead those stories were under the radar as everyone focused on the shutdown.
I’m not saying the glitches are truly a reason to oppose Obamacare, only that the GOP should be focusing on substance to make their case before the 2014 election rather than playing Russian roulette with the economy and the jobs of nearly a million federal workers.
Today is a gorgeous day in Maine, and one of the most beautiful parks in the US, Acadia National Park, is closed thanks to the fact Congress can’t do its job. When a young child wants to watch TV and a parent says no, often the child throws a tantrum. If the parent gives in, then the child learns that tantrums work, and will more frequently and more vigor go ballistic to get his way. If the parent holds firm and there are negative consequences for the tantrum, the child soon learns that tantrums don’t work and it’s better to follow the rules.
The tea party wing of the GOP is throwing a collective tantrum. To give in would assure that shutdowns, crises and other threats to our stability become more frequent – the tactic will have worked. The President cannot let that happen.
“If there is a price to be paid for this, we will recover from a government shutdown, whether it’s a day, a week or two weeks … something will get resolved, we’ll recover from that as a country. It’s a temporary inconvenience for a lot of people. But if Obamacare is ever implemented, we will never recover from that as a nation. We can never be a free people again.” – Rep. Steve King (R – Iowa)
Hyperbole is common in politics, but “we can never be a free people again”? Really?
Every other industrialized state has a national health care system of some sort. A few have single payer systems run by the government, but most have some kind of mixed system. A comparison of diverse systems shows strengths and weaknesses of each, but the bottom line is that making sure everyone gets health care does not endanger freedom. Quite the opposite!
When in the US you have 50 million uninsured, high levels of medical cost induced bankruptcy, and many poor not getting care because they fear collection agencies, we have a problem. Add to that the fact that health care costs nearly 18% of GDP (compared to 8-10% in most other industrialized states – about 13% in Switzerland) it’s obvious that something has to be done.
So we have real problems with health care in America. We pay more, don’t get more, and leave many people uncovered and scared to access care. Now, perhaps Obamacare isn’t the best plan, but this radical “hostage taking” approach supported by tea party folk like Senators Cruz, and Lee and a variety of people in Congress makes no sense.
Instead of making their case to the public and hoping to get a Republican majority in the Senate and perhaps a Republican President in 2016, they’re acting like terrorists threatening to shut down the government and have the country go into default if they don’t get their way to stop or delay ‘Obamacare.’ That only makes sense if they fear that once implemented the system will work well and the public will like it. Otherwise, they’d be smarter to let it fail on its own and then say “I told you so.” At that point they could reform it or gut it, they’d have the political winds at their backs. Their biggest fear seems to be that maybe it’ll work and become popular!
Or maybe it isn’t rational. King’s quote seems over the top; wild rhetoric is usually a sign of emotion. I believe that within the tea party and among people like Rep. King there is an ideological world view that says that America is becoming something different than what it was and what they think it “should be.”
So what should it be? The tea party seems to have a romantic view of the 1980s. Reagan was President, whites were the clear majority, social conservatism was on the rise, and the US was the dominant world power. That is the world they knew and felt comfortable within. Now, the world is strange. A black man named Barack Hussein Obama is President. The US fiasco in Iraq has shown the limits of American power in a post-Cold War multi-polar world. The financial collapse of 2008, built on 30 years of growing debt and government deregulation destroyed the myth that somehow America’s economy was stronger than others in the West. Gay marriage and changing social mores often shock them – as does the fact that changing demographics means minorities have a much stronger voice in the politics of the country.
It’s not just America that’s changed, but the world is changing. Globalization is weakening sovereignty and creating interdependencies at a rapid pace. The information revolution caused by the internet makes borders less relevant and democratizes knowledge, making old political practices obsolete. The spread of weapons of mass destruction and the capacity of terrorists to deliver deadly blows undermines old military tactics. Indeed, warfare of the future will likely be fundamentally different than in the past, military power isn’t what it used to be.
The tea party represents those who fear this new world. That explains King’s hyperbole. Fear. The changes taking place threaten the core of what he’s used to, and thus he’s afraid his values will be in jeopardy. He can’t truly believe Obama care will mean we can never be a free people, it’s part of a response to what they consider a broader assault on what they think America should be.
Fear also explains the antipathy towards Obama. He represents and incarnates all that they see going wrong with the US. A black man with a foreign sounding name, inexplicably getting elected to two terms, leading the country down a scary “socialist” path. Obama is an establishment Democrat – the left wing of the Democratic party is upset with his centrism. His health care plan was a compromise, less obtrusive than Nixon’s plan back in the early seventies. There is nothing new or radical about Obama – except that he’s President in changing times, and the changes scare them.
Ironically, the changes they fear will be hastened if they shut down government or cause America to default. That will further weaken and divide the polity, and despite their belief that they represent “real America,” their views are increasingly on the margin and will not shape the future. But right now they have enough people in Congress to try to take the economy hostage and do real damage. Hopefully Republican leaders like Boehner will have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to them. Those most hurt by the tea party are conservatives trying to establish a vision of what conservatism must be about in these changing times.
Gates was harsh on Republican critiques of the President, ridiculing the idea that we could have flown planes overhead so “apparently the noise” should scare them. Not only would they be undeterred by noise, but Gates noted that given all the missing anti-aircraft weapons, it would have been a stupid decision.
Gates said that he would have made the same choices the President did, and defended former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. There was no military alternative, he insisted; Republican critics that imagine some group could have been flown in on the fly have a “cartoonish” view of what military action is all about.
There is no scandal around Benghazi except for the fact that some Republicans are shamelessly trying to use an attack on America to fish for some kind of partisan jab at the President. Or perhaps they want to hurt Secretary Clinton’s chances to be elected in 2016.
We should come together to learn about what went wrong or right on a tragedy, but not turn it into a political partisan circus – something that the hearings last week obviously became. With wild hyperbole (Sen. Jim Inholfe R-OK, said it was worse than Watergate, Iran Contra and Clinton’s scandals) and claims of a cover up, they use noise and accusations to hide that they have nothing. It is a fishing expedition designed for partisan purposes, nothing more.
The only claim they really have is that maybe some talking points right after the attack didn’t call it terrorism when they knew it was terrorism. They claim it was to somehow protect Obama’s re-election campaign; but given how quickly he came out and labeled it terrorism and got the information out there, that’s a pretty lame argument. It’s also one that has no traction. In the early days after an event when so much is still uncertain, and when the Administration is weighing responses, there are limits to what you want to be public.
So they have that non-attack, absurd claims that the military could respond, smacked down by Secretary Gates who has served for both Obama and Bush, and who knows Obama’s character.
The bottom line is that many Republicans didn’t think Obama would be re-elected, they thought they’d have the Senate, and they don’t like how the media is focusing on how out of touch their message is right now. As pragmatic Republicans try to wrestle power away from the extremists, many want to construct a scandal where none exists. They hope to use that to weaken the President, take the public’s mind off both the pressing issues of the day and how dysfunctional a divided Congress has become.
It will backfire – it already has. The story is old and despite all the hype FOX and the GOP are trying to create, more columns are being written critical of the Republicans in Congress than the President. It has given the late night hosts plenty to mock. Jon Stewart skewered FOX for playing up the hype of yelling fire when there’s not even smoke!
But sadly, this circus is indicative of the political dysfunction that paralyzes the country as our problems mount. Rather than recognizing that the attack was a tragedy that should bring us together and learn how to better defend our embassies, politicians search for partisan gain (and Democrats are not blameless, some claiming that Republican cuts to embassy security allowed the attacks).
This is why we can’t reach compromises and deal with the difficult issues facing the country. It’s spectacle and posturing, rather than hard work and compromise. It is a sign that our democratic institutions are starting to buckle at the hands of ideologues who don’t understand that the founders designed a system to inspire compromise. They were divided t00 – the founders had a variety of different views, and they know that would always be true in a democracy. They compromised, and created a system that requires compromise to function.
Thank you, Secretary Gates for pointing out the absurdity of the charges being made. I hope within the GOP leaders look at the lack of evidence of even a whiff of scandal and recognize that this absurd circus is hurting them, and that real issues facing the country need serious attention.
Notice anything interesting about this map? The US is in a lighter shade of blue then New England, which is off colored and unlabeled. This map is from a Republican guide to finding one’s Senators and representatives. To the GOP New England appears to be persona non grata.
Indeed, with a few exceptions (Senators from Maine and New Hampshire) the region has become very Democratic. New England along with the upper Northwest were the only regions where white males supported Obama in the election.
Not only that, but New England Republicans are distrusted in their own party. They are often pro-choice, moderate and labeled RINOs (Republican in name only) by ideological conservatives. Maine Senators Collins and Snowe voted to acquit President Clinton after his impeachment, breaking with their party. Senator Snowe’s retirement this year was in part a reaction to all the anger and partisanship that has overtaken the Senate. Yes, Maine has a tea party governor, but that’s only because of a three way race in which 39% could win.
This is interesting because New England does not fit the usual left-right demographic patterns. Maine is the most white and least diverse state in the union. New Englanders are pragmatic and rather conservative. But there is one thing that sets the region apart: ideology is distrusted. Here in Maine the tea party governor couldn’t get his fellow Republicans to impose a true conservative agenda when they had control of both houses. Instead they continued the tradition of trying to build consensus, often angering Governor LePage. I supported President Obama, but voted for many Maine Republicans – it’s not good vs. evil here!
It’s a part of the pragmatism – a sense that the difficult problems we face can’t be addressed by looking to fancy theories and ideologies, but by compromising with a goal of solving problems. In that New Englanders are more conservative than many Republicans who have a radical ideological world view – to implement ‘true capitalism’ or some other ideologically motivated “solution” to our problems.
Ideologies are seductive. The present truths in simple terms and make seem like all you have to do to solve our problems is follow the ideological precepts. People who want to be right, who don’t want to deal with complexity and uncertainty, often find ideologies very comforting. They are a kind of secular religion, you can interpret the world through an ideology and avoid cognitive dissonance. As Communism demonstrated, people can cling to ideologies even when it’s absolutely crystal clear that the evidence proves them wrong.
An example of that taken to the extreme can be seen in this over the top interview of Alex Jones by Piers Morgan:
Ideologues can ignore reality because its so complex that you can always find some other reason to explain what went wrong. Communist ideologues blamed the West or others for making the ‘path to socialism’ more difficult. Capitalist ideologues embrace the market, and find reasons to dismiss evidence that shows markets can be inhumane and corrupted when not regulated.
I don’t think Republicans or Democrats outside New England are all ideologues. Rather, media plays a role to socialize people to embrace ideological thinking by creating a narrative that makes it seem natural. Powerful corporate actors like the “Club for Growth” use money to manipulate the process and create an ideological political climate.
The classic example of media narrative is the last election. On the right there was a widespread belief that Romney would easily beat Obama this year, a belief held by even people high up in the Romney campaign. The narrative seemed logical: the polls over sample Democrats, Obama’s supporters aren’t as enthused, Republicans are angry and want Obama gone, the 2010 spirit still exists, the media is overstating Obama’s chances because they like him, etc.
If you looked at the evidence it was pretty clear that those arguments were weak – that the expectation had to be that Obama would win. However, FOX news, talk radio, conservative blogs, and media outlets on the right stated that case over and over like it was a fact, and then added that the mainstream media was untrustworthy, in the pocket of Obama and even trying to demoralize the right. In other words, rather than rationally analyze the narrative, they found excuses on why not to take the counter arguments seriously.
This happens on many issues – climate change, taxes, the economy, guns, terrorism, the debt ceiling. There is an ideology-driven understanding of reality that is spread by talk radio, FOX, and a host of blogs and pundits that is designed not to analyze a perspective but to promote and defend it because it is deemed true – the ideology is unquestioned.
This penchant for ideology-based understandings of reality is destroying the Republican party. I do not believe John Boehner or Mitch McConnell are ideologues, but they are held captive by the fringes of their party. Moreover, there are signs many on the left want to emulate the ideologues on the right by embracing partisan war. That has to stop. It is time for pragmatism, pragmatism is the enemy of ideology.
Ideologues claim they are embracing principle, but that’s an illusion. They are embracing simple rules. Reality is complex and simple principles don’t work. Context matters, it changes the meaning of every act. Ideologues left and right will use terms like freedom, social justice, equality and even peace to give their causes the air of moral authority. But beware any theory-driven understanding of a complex reality, and beware of those who interpret everything through their ideological lens rather than comparing and contrasting different perspectives.
Pragmatism is messy, but it’s the only way forward in difficult times.