Saturday, February 28, 2009

CPAC & The "Country First" Fallacy

"The enemy is the left."

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, CPAC, 2/27/09


We seem to have passed a point in the political discourse, or at least the Republicans have.

A Democrat may think the Republicans are stupefyingly, calamitously, tragically wrong and devote every ounce of his being to ensuring the defeat of their agenda. A Republican may think the Democratic agenda is irresponsible and generally catastrophic, and devote his life to stopping it. But neither side questioned whether the other side’s main agenda was making America better.

This is new territory.

DeLay has taken the handoff from Rush Limbaugh, who espoused a sentiment – treasonous in intent if not by law – that he hopes President Obama fails. DeLay, when asked if he agrees with that sentiment, replied, “Exactly right. I don’t want this for our nation.”

Nor does Sean Hannity, who briefly had a poll on his website asking which kind of revolution his followers prefer, and the choices included “violent overthrow” and “military coup”. Of course, publicly advocating the violent overthrow of the government is treasonous in both spirit and manifestation.

The Republicans have now officially stopped fighting for their country. They have no longer left this up to our interpretation. They have just come out and said it.

The GOP has, in recent years, fought for their ideology, and we always assumed that they believed that the prosperity of America would be the natural result of the application of that ideology. “Republican values, conservative values, are right for America,” said new RNC chair Michael Steele.

While it was clear that too few of them have understood the limits of ideology, you still couldn’t bring yourself to question whether they were at least trying to get to the same place as everyone else, even if their adherence to an orthodox practicing of their one true way was a tiny bit scary.

But with Republicans once again renewing their attacks on President Obama – or basically anyone to the left of Arlen Specter – as a “socialist”, we’re seeing a new level of intolerance from a party with a culture that former Nixon aide John Dean termed “authoritarian”. 

Tucker Carlson, a "small-c" conservative thought leader and self-identified Libertarian, was booed off the stage at CPAC for having the temerity to actually suggest that the Republican Party get back to concerning itself with (gasp) facts when they make their case.

This has become only about gaining power, not about the country. John McCain’s “Country First” slogan turned out to be less jingoism than it was outright misdirection. Carlson's plea for actual integrity was shouted down because conservatives from Bill O’Reilly to Dick Cheney have repeatedly shown the willingness to outright lie to grab that power. They’re not even trying to hide it, and there is no room at CPAC for someone like Carlson who is interested in making an intellectually honest argument for his beliefs. If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’, the old sports adage goes.

And CPAC can no longer be written off as the lunatic, extremist fringe of the GOP. Michael Steele and Tim Pawlenty have never been known as ideologues, yet they have toed the line and stood at attention at this conference. As we saw in their unanimous House rejection of the recovery package, the Republicans are responding to their resounding electoral defeat by, as one pundit put it, “re-trenching”: recommitting, in pure, orthodox form, to their ideology.

In the context of the authoritarianism described by Dean in “Conservatives Without Conscience”, it should not be surprising that Sentors Specter, Snowe and Collins were the only Congressional Republicans to cross the aisle on the recovery package. They are perhaps the only Republicans in either house who are either immune from right-wing group-think (or outright coercion) or at least as subject in their home states to the forces of moderation.

But the state of things is clear: the orthodox conservatism expressed with such furor at CPAC now represents the mainstream of Republican thought. Limbaugh, scheduled to speak at CPAC, has firmly established himself as the preeminent opinion-maker in the Republican Party. 

Consider what happened to Congressman Phil Gingrey (R- Georgia), who said, “It’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks.”

Gingrey the very next day found himself on Limbaugh’s show, begging for forgiveness, and issued the following statement:

Because of the high volume of phone calls and correspondence received by my office since the Politico article ran, I wanted to take a moment to speak directly to grassroots conservatives. Let me assure you, I am one of you.

I never told Rush to back off. I regret and apologize for the fact that my comments have offended and upset my fellow conservatives—that was not my intent. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, and other conservative giants are the voices of the conservative movement’s conscience.

Rush Limbaugh, who flunked out of college, was kicked off of Monday Night Football for racist comments, and said he hopes that the President of the United States fails in fixing our economy, charts the path of the Republican Party.


What makes this so frightening is that it shows us that Republicans, if they had to choose between living in a decaying America run by Republicans or in a Pax Americana brought about by Democrats, would actually choose the former.

Now, I know conservatives, good people of conscience, who did not vote for Barack Obama, but would gladly never see another Republican President if Obama could leave office after 8 years having stabilized the economy, set us on a path towards energy independence, got a grip on health care, and extricated us from the Middle East quagmire.

But those same people need to ask themselves why they continue to vote for people do not feel as they do on that count. Because the preponderance of Republicans involved in politics would prefer we remain in crisis if it speeds up the return of the GOP to power.  Anyone who supports this approach with their votes or their money needs to reintroduce their own consciences into their internal discourse.

Here is the real chilling question:

Where in the world do we find examples of people who seek and exercise power through a strict, orthodox adherence to an ideology, believe there is only one true way, are intolerant of any other ideas, and are willing to take that power by force (as Hannity’s website suggested) - even to the detriment of their country?

Is it not the Taliban and Saudi Arabia – those who attacked us on 9/11?

And make no mistake, this is exactly that kind of extremism.  While Muslim extremists pick and choose what they want to take from Mohammed to feed their anger or their short-term aims, Conservative extremists here cherry pick from Ronald Reagan without regard for the fact that this is not 1980 anymore.

When we consider who it was that claimed to be bringing “freedom” to Iraq even while they were curbing it here in the form of the Patriot Act… is it not fair to ask if the terrorists have, indeed, won when it comes to the right in this country? Republican Senator Jeff Sessions even went so far as call on Republicans to mount an "insurgency" in the model of the Taliban in order fight the Democrats.

The Republicans have registered their flight plan, and they are en route to a place where they will, like the abused child that grows up to become an abuser himself, have become that which they hate, having mortgaged all other ethics to buy into the one ethic that still matters: the acquisition of power.

This has now gone way past the liberal and conservative tug of war. It’s no longer about which side is better able to make the state of our union stronger. The GOP has taken us to a point where we now have to acknowledge that majority of the minority, as it were - the “party of no” that all but unanimously opposed all attempts to rescue the economy - may not even be interested in the health of the nation if that health is not what will allow them to rule.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Point By Point on Bobby Jindal's GOP Response

Good evening. I'm Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana.

Something just doesn't feel right here. That Louisiana elected an Indian teenager as Governor is bizarre enough, but that drawl just doesn't sound any more "right" than it does coming from Tony Gwynn.

Tonight, we witnessed a great moment in the history of our republic. In the very chamber where Congress once voted to abolish slavery, our first African American president stepped forward to address the state of our union. With his speech tonight, the president completed a redemptive journey that took our nation from Independence Hall to Gettysburg to the lunch counter and now, finally, the Oval Office.

Regardless of party, all Americans are moved by the president's personal story -- the son of an American mother and a Kenyan father, who grew up to become leader of the free world. Like the president's father, my parents came to this country from a distant land. When they arrived in Baton Rouge, my mother was already 4½ months pregnant. I was what folks in the insurance industry now call a "preexisting condition."

I won't trash him for his intent here, but the race angle for Obama was played, pleasantly, by the media and the whole country in an understated way, and Jindal belaboring it here is just plain awkward. And his delivery on the already-lame "preexisting condition" joke fell about as flat as a day old open can of Diet Coke.

To find work, my dad picked up the Yellow Pages and started calling local businesses. Even after landing a job, he could still not afford to pay for my delivery -- so he worked out an installment plan with the doctor. Fortunately for me, he never missed a payment.

If being Governor of Louisiana means he won't be embarking on a coast-to-coast comedy tour... WIN.

As I grew up, my mom and dad taught me the values that attracted them to this country -- and they instilled in me an immigrant's wonder at the greatness of America. As a child, I remember going to the grocery store with my dad. Growing up in India, he had seen extreme poverty. And as we walked through the aisles, looking at the endless variety on the shelves, he would tell me: "Bobby, Americans can do anything."

I still believe that to this day. Americans can do anything. When we pull together, there is no challenge we cannot overcome.

As all the Republican votes for the recovery plan showed.

As the president made clear this evening, we are now in a time of challenge. Many of you listening tonight have lost jobs. Others have seen your college and retirement savings dwindle. Many of you are worried about losing your healthcare and your homes. And you are looking to your elected leaders in Washington for solutions.

Republicans are ready to work with the new president to provide those solutions. Here in my state of Louisiana, we don't care what party you belong to if you have good ideas to make life better for our people. We need more of that attitude from both Democrats and Republicans in our nation's capital.

All of us want our economy to recover and our nation to prosper. So where we agree, Republicans must be the president's strongest partners. And where we disagree, Republicans have a responsibility to be candid and offer better ideas for a path forward.

Translation: we don't agree on anything, but in the unlikely event that we ever SHOULD agree on something... you know, in the event you completely change your mind and come to our side... we're there.

Today in Washington, some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us. Those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina, we have our doubts.

Let me tell you a story.

During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office, I'd never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone:

"Well, I'm the sheriff and if you don't like it you can come and arrest me!" I asked him: "Sheriff, what's got you so mad?" He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters.

The boats were all lined up ready to go -- when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn't go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, "Sheriff, that's ridiculous." And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: "Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!" Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and start rescuing people.

There is a lesson in this experience: The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and enterprising spirit of our citizens.

This is some bizarre logic here: Bush is bad, therefore government is bad. That's like saying, a doctor somewhere once made a huge mistake, so that is why you should avoid doctors. Using George W. Bush - the guy Bobby Jindal surely voted for (twice) - as evidence to justify the Reagan "government is the problem" mantra is disingenuous to the Nth degree. 

And for an elected official to be telling me how bad government is reminds me of a P.J. O'Rourke quote from "Parliament of Whores": Republicans are the party that tells you that government can't work. Then they get elected and prove it. 

No wonder Bush was so appealing to the right: he was the perfect man to help them make the case that government sucks and shouldn't even try. 

By presenting the united front against any governmental intervention in the economy beyond tax cuts, the Republicans have fully positioned themselves so that the only way they can validate their ideology - that government is bad and should not try to solve problems- is if the government fails. They are now aligned so that their own interests run 180 degrees contrary to national interests. So how much can we expect, as Jindal said, that the Republicans will be willing to "pull together"? Their only route back to power is to try and make sure any Democratic idea fails. Rush Limbaugh just came out and said what most Republicans think: they hope Obama fails so it validates their position, they can return to power, and get back to running the country in the "one true way" (which didn't work so well the last 8 years).

We are grateful for the support we have received from across the nation for the ongoing recovery efforts. This spirit got Louisiana through the hurricanes -- and this spirit will get our nation through the storms we face today.

To solve our current problems, Washington must lead. But the way to lead is not to raise taxes and put more money and power in hands of Washington politicians. The way to lead is by empowering you -- the American people. Because we believe that Americans can do anything.

He has now said "Americans Can Do Anything" a few times and continues to deliver it in a tone that a grade school teacher would use to address students. It's a platitude. And its a rejection of the idea that we elect officials to go to Washington and actually DO something for common good.

That is why Republicans put forward plans to create jobs by lowering income tax rates for working families, cutting taxes for small businesses, strengthening incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment and hire new workers, and stabilizing home values by creating a new tax credit for home-buyers.

Once again: tax cuts are the ONLY Republican idea on the economy. It's the centerpiece of their Reagonomic supply-side ideology- an ideology that the country just rejected en masse on November 4th.  That the GOP lost seems to have escaped Jindal and the rest of his party.

These plans would cost less and create more jobs.

That's his opinion... one that was not exactly supported by the Bush tax cuts, which cost 50% more than this recovery package and did nothing to slow our slide into recession.

But Democratic leaders in Congress rejected this approach. Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money, they passed the largest government spending bill in history -- with a price tag of more than $1 trillion with interest.

This notion that people know best what to do with their own money is the mother of all platitudes. If that's the case, then we should just have NO taxes and count on the people - who know best - to make sure to pay for roads and schools and garbage trucks and a national defense. There are some things we need to pool our resources to get done, and we can have a reasonable argument about what that includes. But to continue to spout nonsense like this is Exhibit A in the GOP's inability to distinguish where ideology ends and reality begins.

While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a "magnetic levitation" line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called "volcano monitoring." Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.

Oy veh. "Las Vegas to Disneyland"? Jindal has obviously never driven I-15 between Vegas and LA on a Sunday afternoon. If he doesn't think that a high speed rail link between our second largest metropolitan area and our largest tourist destination would be one of the country's most-traveled train routes with significant economic and environmental benefits... well, there's just no helping him.

And it would be poetic justice (and in no small way entertaining) if he should someday find himself running at top speed from the lava spewed by an erupting volcano his own party prevented us from monitoring.

Democratic leaders say their legislation will grow the economy. What it will do is grow the government, increase our taxes down the line and saddle future generations with debt.

Who among us would ask our children for a loan so we could spend money we do not have, on things we do not need? That is precisely what the Democrats in Congress just did. It's irresponsible. And it's no way to strengthen our economy, create jobs or build a prosperous future for our children.

Republicans weren't too concerned with saddling future generations with debt when it came to the Bush tax cuts or the Iraq war. And this only passes debt down if the economy does not recover. Of course, Conservatives are convinced that the one and only route to economic recovery is through tax cuts, so the thought hasn't even crossed their minds that this could actually work.

In Louisiana, we took a different approach. Since I became governor, we cut more than 250 earmarks from our state budget. And to create jobs for our citizens, we cut taxes six times -- including the largest income tax cut in the history of our state.

We passed those tax cuts with bipartisan majorities. Republicans and Democrats put aside their differences and worked together to make sure our people could keep more of what they earn. If it can be done in Baton Rouge, surely it can be done in Washington, D.C. long as it's only DEMOCRATS adjusting their views. Did Jindal happen to notice that tax cuts were a big portion of the recovery plan?  Did he even read it?  (More on this upcoming...)

To strengthen our economy, we need urgent action to keep energy prices down. All of us remember what it felt like to pay $4 at the pump -- and unless we act now, those prices will return. To stop that from happening, we need to increase conservation, increase energy efficiency, increase the use of alternative and renewable fuels, increase our use of nuclear power and increase drilling for oil and gas here at home.

We believe that Americans can do anything -- and if we unleash the innovative spirit of our citizens, we can achieve energy independence.

The Republicans fought like hell to put the government in the hands of two oil men, Bush and Cheney. And in eight years we made NO move towards energy independence. Bush did not even acknowledge global warming was real until midway through his second term, and there was no funding whatsoever for research on alternative energies that might threaten the oil hegemony that helps keep the Republicans in power. We didn't go near CAFE standards, and we fought a war for more oil. It's nice to see that maybe Jindal gets what's needed now. But perhaps he didn't read the details of the recovery plan, which includes money for alternative energy research.

To strengthen our economy, we also need to address the crisis in healthcare. Republicans believe in a simple principle: No American should have to worry about losing their health coverage -- period.

We stand for universal access to affordable healthcare coverage. We oppose universal government-run healthcare. Healthcare decisions should be made by doctors and patients -- not by government bureaucrats. We believe Americans can do anything -- and if we put aside partisan politics and work together, we can make our system of private medicine affordable and accessible for every one of our citizens.

Which is why under eight years of Republican rule in Washington, we saw health care reform front and center, with myriad plans to make sure that all Americans had affordable health care. Oh, wait... that's an alternate universe. In the real one, health care costs spiraled out of control without being addressed in Washington at any point. In fact, the Republicans went to war with Hillary Clinton to ensure that we did NOT get health care reform. Just cut your losses and stop now, Bobby.

To strengthen our economy, we also need to make sure every child in America gets the best possible education. After Katrina, we reinvented the New Orleans school system -- opening dozens of new charter schools and creating a new scholarship program that is giving parents the chance to send their children to private or parochial schools of their choice. We believe that, with the proper education, the children of America can do anything. And it should not take a devastating storm to bring this kind of innovation to education in our country.

There is no greater threat to American democracy than Republican ideas on education. They simply do not believe in a quality public education for all. They would rather throw a rope to those with the means to send their children to private school and abandon the rest. It is nothing short of creating a caste system in America: if you're born into money you get an education, if you're not, you don't. And yet they have the gall to accuse the DEMOCRATS of class warfare. Nothing the Democrats propose will make the prosperous less so.

And the GOP continues to labor under the delusion that forces of competition somehow work in the education arena - which does not exist for profit.

To strengthen our economy, we must promote confidence in America by ensuring ours is the most ethical and transparent system in the world. In my home state, there used to be saying: At any given time, half of Louisiana is underwater -- and the other half is under indictment.
No one says that anymore. Last year, we passed some of the strongest ethics laws in the nation -- and today, Louisiana has turned her back on the corruption of the past. We need to bring transparency to Washington, D.C. -- so we can rid our Capitol of corruption and ensure we never see the passage of another trillion-dollar spending bill that Congress has not even read and the American people haven't even seen.

OK, two major issues here...

1) Bobby, just because, as you continue to demonstrate, YOU haven't read the plan, it doesn't mean others haven't. I direct you to a website that was created - at the urging of your own party - to ensure transparency.

2) You didn't just try to link corruption and the recovery plan, did you? 

As we take these steps, we must remember for all our troubles at home, dangerous enemies still seek our destruction. Now is no time to dismantle the defenses that have protected this country for hundreds of years, or make deep cuts in funding for our troops.

Who is trying to dismantle our military? 

America's fighting men and women can do anything. And if we give them the resources they need, they will stay on the offensive, defeat our enemies and protect us from harm.

In all these areas, Republicans want to work with President Obama. We appreciate his message of hope -- but sometimes it seems we look for hope in different places. Democratic leaders in Washington place their hope in the federal government. We place our hope in you -- the American people.

Since when are our elected leaders not part of the American people?

In the end, it comes down to an honest and fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government. We oppose the national Democrats' view that says the way to strengthen our country is to increase dependence on government. We believe the way to strengthen our country is to restrain spending in Washington and empower individuals and small businesses to grow our economy and create jobs.

In case you weren't watching TV on November 4th, it's not just the national Democrats' view that the government should, you know... DO something. It was a large majority of voters. Did you watch Arnold Schwarzenegger on Meet The Press? It's nice to see one Republican governor who understands what the people actually voted for... and against.

In recent years, these distinctions in philosophy became less clear because our party got away from its principles. You elected Republicans to champion limited government, fiscal discipline and personal responsibility. Instead, Republicans went along with earmarks and big government spending in Washington. Republicans lost your trust -- and rightly so.

"Went along with"? You had a Republican in the Oval Office for eight years, a Republican Congress for six of them, and for two years the Democrats had only a slim, non-veto-proof majority... and the President didn't veto any Democratic spending bills. Don't try to play this like the GOP just got pulled along here. Nice try.

Tonight, on behalf of our leaders in Congress and my fellow Republican governors, I say: Our party is determined to regain your trust. We will do so by standing up for the principles that we share -- the principles you elected us to fight for -- the principles that built this into the greatest, most prosperous country on Earth.

Once again, an example of the GOP fighting for the "one true way", which in their ideologue psyches will naturally result in good things happening. But at the end of the day, it's the conservative principles that they are fighting for. The good of the country is only the side effect of that.

A few weeks ago, the president warned that our nation is facing a crisis that he said "we may not be able to reverse." Our troubles are real, to be sure. But don't let anyone tell you that we cannot recover -- or that America's best days are behind her.

That is only what he said if you truncate his comment. Don't even try that with us, Guv.

This is the nation that cast off the scourge of slavery, overcame the Great Depression, prevailed in two World Wars, won the struggle for civil rights, defeated the Soviet menace and responded with determined courage to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The American spirit has triumphed over almost every form of adversity known to man -- and the American spirit will triumph again.

We can have confidence in our future -- because, amid today's challenges, we also count many blessings: We have the most innovative citizens, the most abundant resources, the most resilient economy, the most powerful military and the freest political system in the history of the world. My fellow citizens, never forget: We are Americans. And like my dad said years ago, Americans can do anything.

Thank you for listening. God bless you. And God bless America.

And God bless YOU, Bobby Jindal.

Good grief.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I'd like to say this shocks me...

... but from the right, nothing shocks me anymore.  This from the New York Post...

This cartoon lampoons this week's shooting of a chimp, and makes the point that the stimulus bill is obviously so stupid that a chimp could have written it, or makes the point that the stimulus bill is dangerous- like the late chimp.

But the slur of equating an African-American with a monkey hangs over the entire cartoon, and there can be little doubt that this was meant to draw attention in a way that afforded plausible deniability and leaves the publication on the hook for little more than rank thoughtlessness.

This is, however, a Rupert Murdoch publication we're talking about here, so the odds that this wasn't a calculated and strategic expression of borderline racist contempt for the President who beat them?   Minimal.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Obama's Error and the Republicans' Gambit

The sudden high profile of Eric Cantor is a curious phenomenon.  His fiscal conservatism would make a miser look like a rap star, and he has emerged as a field general for the obstructionist right.  It's exceedingly difficult to stomach the hypocrisy of Cantor, John Boehner, and well... all but three Congressional Republicans as they wax indignant over the debt that will be passed on to our children thanks to the recovery package.  After all, they were not nearly so indignant at the Bush tax cuts, which were 50% larger and were not at the time (or at any time since) thought by any reputable economist likely to produce any stimulative effect whatsoever.  Nor were they indignant at the cost of the Iraq war, which also far exceeds this recovery package.  They're only concerned about the debt we're passing on when it's a result of a Democratic plan as opposed to a Republican.  At the end of the day, there is no principle at work, only politics- the desire to return to power.

Which is why GOP obstructionism in this case is such a curious strategy.  The Republican Party has gone "all in" on the hope/belief that the economy will not perk up any time soon.  They're even running television commercials bragging about how not a single House Republican voted yea.  They have positioned themselves in such a way as the country's interests and the Republican Party's interests are now wholly incompatible.  Should the economy not recover, the GOP can run on "we were right, you were wrong".  But should things start to improve, the Republicans will be cemented as the "party of no".  That - combined with having misplayed two straight really big hands (Iraq) - will surely give the Democrats a Congressional plurality so great that it would leave the Republicans as nothing more than an insignificant fringe party.  Their very brand would be trash for a generation, until they emerge, re-invented, several election cycles down the line.

There are two forces at work that the President clearly underestimated here.

First, he drew up a bill that was way too bipartisan to start with.  He didn't make the Republicans fight for the tax cuts that are a part of the package, depriving them of the ability to take home some semblance of a win, which would have allowed them to get behind the bill.  Remember: politics, not principles.  You don't win back any power by finding points of agreement- you do it by wholesale differentiation.  Obama would have been smarter to have drawn up a recovery plan with all spending, no tax cuts, then let the GOP fight to include tax cuts in the package.  They would have taken home enough of a win to satisfy the ideologues that they made the Democrats come back to the middle.  But instead, Obama started in the middle, so with nothing to fight for, Boehner and Cantor and the extremists on the right (including McCain in the Senate) now claim this was not a bipartisan bill - a unique bit of revisionist history given where the bill started and the extensive consultations with the Republican caucuses.   Unfortunately, since the bill started off in the middle, the only way the GOP could extract a win would be a bill that was fully a Republican creation.

The other phenomenon Obama underestimated - and while he probably understands it, he will have a tougher time overcoming it - is that the Democrats and Republicans do not merely differ on points of policy.  The two parties are fundamentally, culturally wired in different ways.    The only loose, guiding principle of the Democrats is a desire for progress, and the willingness to use the apparatus of the government to help spur that progress when needed.  The Republicans, however, have hardened their platform into a full-on secular religion.  One Republican, shortly after the election, even couched his comments on desiring to work with the new President in religious terms, speaking of a desire to help to "show him the way"... as if defeating the scourge of liberalism is missionary work, driving Satan from our hearts and minds.

For the Republicans, there is one true way, and moral clarity is expendable in the name of winning in much the same way the devoutly religious throughout history have been able to justify ill-treatment of their fellow man in the name of a mandate from a higher place.  Whatever level taxes are at now, they should be lower.  Period.  Government should be smaller and intervene less.  Period.  The free market should rule.  Period.  Personal responsibility can be relied upon as a matter of public policy.  Period.    And then there's the quagmire of the culture war.  

There are no guiding principles, meant to be applied strategically and judiciously according to circumstance.   The Conservative/neocon movement is not a starting point for negotiation, and it's not even about doing what's best for the country.  It's a dogma to be fought for.  Mitt Romney said as much when he withdrew from the Republican primary - a rare moment of honest candor from someone more often prone to dissemination of, well, bullshit. 

Democratic rhetoric is about making things better in this country.  And if you, as a conservative, want to have an intellectually honest debate about just how involved the government should be in that process and what may constitute inefficiency and overreaching, we can have that discussion.  But most Republican rhetoric and policy and strategy today is about fighting for their side, for Conservative principles.  If conquering the country for Conservative principles helps the country... well, that's the natural side effect of the triumph of the one true way, in their eyes.  But it's that one true way, not the side effect, that they are fighting for.

If this obstructionist gambit doesn't work, it will be the equivalent of the Hiroshima bomb going off over the GOP.  They will be flattened by it, not to be heard from again for a decade or two.

Monday, February 9, 2009

John McCain Revealed

I told anyone who would listed after election day that we would learn who the real John McCain was in the early weeks and months of the new administration, now that McCain was a true free agent, beholden to no one, free to pursue his own true north star.  Was he the true bi-partisan maverick who simply tried without success to sell out to the far right because that was the only way he could get the nomination?  Or was he in fact an original neocon- as he himself once claimed - who attempted to leverage the victimhood at the hands of the Bush-Rove team in 2000 and a lone act of line-crossing (McCain-Feingold) into an entire "maverick" brand that never truly existed?

The Senator has given us his answer:  it's the latter.

McCain railed on the House recovery package, claiming it was not bipartisan, as it had not a single Republican vote.  (This is, itself, backwards logic, as the Republicans responded with greater obstructionist unanimity than the Democrats pushed forward with rubber-stamp unanimity.)  Then he led the opposition to the plan in the Senate, rallying his party behind the McCain Plan... a package comprised almost entirely of tax cuts.

During the campaign, McCain peddled little more than Conservative ideology:  low taxes at all costs, values issues, and carrying the Ronald Reagan mantle that government does not solve problems- the government is the problem.  (Again, an odd position to be held by someone running for high government office.)   McCain offered few, if any, ideas to solve the numerous grave problems that face the country... an almost poetic bit of alignment, as McCain was the standard-bearer for a party whose own intelligentsia has recognized, with sadness, is completely bankrupt of ideas.  The Republicans once proudly carried the banner of being the party of ideas.  Now they are simply the party of "no".  They reacted to their resounding defeat in November not by accepting it as a wake-up call, but rather, by running back to the obstructionism that led them to shut down the federal government in 1996 when they were led by Newt Gingrich.

Obama ran on "Yes We Can" and the GOP has countered, in one voice, with "No We Can't".   

And McCain is once again demonstrating, just as he did in his bumbling, fumbling, stumbling campaign, that he just doesn't get it.  He doesn't understand that the country voted resoundingly for action, not more of the same, and he doesn't understand that any capitalist democracy is a public-private partnership that at times calls for more government action and at times calls for a more laissez-faire approach.  You cannot simply apply a single ideology at all times.  So when McCain decries Obama for ramming his agenda down the throats of the other party just as Bush did to the Democrats for six years, what he doesn't understand is that so long as the Republicans- as the majority or the minority - offer only distilled ideology and no ideas, there is no place where the two sides can meet.  There are no degrees of "low taxes, leave it to the free market".  

When Obama met with Republican Congressional leaders to discuss the recovery package- an act of conciliation and bipartisanship unheard of in the last eight years- the President couldn't incorporate their ideas because they had none.  All they had was their embattled ideology that the voters have rejected.  Chris Hayes of The Nation opined last week that asking Republicans for ideas on a recovery package is like asking the Quakers for ideas on your next battle plan; they are simply not wired to even think in these terms.  And John McCain is no better wired to do so than the rest of his party.  Not very maverick-like.

My grandfather always said:  when someone shows you who they are... believe them.  When McCain said that he still needed to be educated on the economy, he was being honest, and he was right.  And when he said he believed the fundamentals of the economy were strong, he was again being honest, and he was dead wrong... tragically and catastrophically so (for us) had he been elected.

Re-watch Obama's prime time new conference tonight.  Try to imagine John McCain answering with the depth of understanding of the complexities of issues that Obama demonstrated.    Impossible.  Obama is an intellectual giant and a great leader- something even his most committed enemies will tell you.  McCain is an average intellect, something even his most committed supporters will grant.  And you know what?  These qualities of the two were revealed in the crucible of the campaign.

Also revealed in the crucible of the campaign and demonstrated since the inauguration is that John McCain is simply too committed a partisan and too true a believer - too great an ideologue - to read the landscape and understand where he and his party have gone off the rails.  And as someone who worked pretty hard to make sure McCain didn't win, it gives me no pleasure to see the GOP lost in space.  This isn't Michigan and Ohio State, where any Buckeye misfortune is categorically a boon to the Wolverines. This country needs the Republicans to make meaningful contributions and provide a necessary ideological counterweight... NOT have them lie down in the middle of the road and act as human roadblocks on the Progressive Highway.

When McCain said that he believed that Obama could bring change but has turned out to be every bit the hard-liner that Bush was, he demonstrates a shocking inability to look in the mirror and understand why the Republicans lost.  Obama has reached out his hand.  Republicans have not taken it.  Obama named three Republicans to his cabinet (unprecedented).  He sought their input on the recovery plan, but they had no ideas besides the policies that were tried, failed, and ultimately rejected by the voters.  Obama will come to the middle, but bipartisanship doesn't mean coming all the way to the right.  

McCain cannot see this, because he was never bipartisan, never a moderate, never a maverick.   That was a short term marketing campaign that ultimately did not pass muster.