False Centrism In An Era Of Republican Extremism

Americans Elect has failed to come up with a candidate to challenge the Democratic and Republican Party’s hold on the electoral system. There were problems with their idea. The group was backed by centrists but whenever you look at the types of policies self-described centrists want, you have a platform which is only very slightly to the right of that of the Democratic Party. Old concepts about moderation and centrism no longer hold when one party has moved to the extreme right, and the other party has responded by moving towards the center.

I was also not terribly impressed by the idea of picking a presidential candidate from one party and vice presidential candidate from the other. It just sounds like a gimmick, as if having candidates from different parties would make the party more representative of the entire nation.  If I were to seriously consider a party, it is the ideas promoted by the candidates and not their party affiliation which really matter. Match Ben Nelson and any Republican and for all practical purposes you would still have two Republicans. Substitute Joe Lieberman and it wouldn’t be much better.

There is one purpose I could see for gaining ballot access for a party which is center-right The move by the Republicans to the extreme right does not leave a home for less extreme Republicans. Perhaps some day the typical Republican voter will get a better idea as to what has happened to the Republican Party and will want a choice which reflects their views. Where does a supporter of Ronald Reagan vote these days with the GOP moving so far to the right of Reagan?

If people really wanted centrist positions, they would be backing Barack Obama, who has gone overboard in offering policies which compromise with Republican ideas even though Republicans refused to come to the table to honestly negotiate with him. It was a noble idea on Obama’s part, but the wrong time for this. Fortunately Obama has realized this and has gone on the offensive against Republican extremism.

Chuck Hagel, while still too conservative for my tastes, would be preferable to the current GOP leadership. Last week Hagel discussed why Ronald Reagan would not identify with the current Republican Party:

“Reagan would be stunned by the party today,” Hagel said in a long interview in his office at Georgetown University, where he now teaches. He also serves as co-chair of President Barack Obama‘s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Reagan wanted to do away with nuclear weapons, raised taxes, made deals with congressional Democrats, sought compromises and consensus to fix problems, and surrounded himself with moderates as well as Republican hard-liners, Hagel noted. None of that is characterized by the current GOP leadership, he said. In his eyes, the rise of the Tea Party and the influx of new GOP lawmakers in Congress have driven the party away from common sense and consensus-based solutions.

“Reagan wouldn’t identify with this party. There’s a streak of intolerance in the Republican Party today that scares people. Intolerance is a very dangerous thing in a society because it always leads to a tragic ending,” he said. “Ronald Reagan was never driven by ideology. He was a conservative but he was a practical conservative. He wanted limited government but he used government and he used it many times. And he would work with the other party.”

The situation today is similar to where the GOP found itself in the early 1950s, when there was a battle for the direction of the party over the party’s identity, Hagel said. Dwight Eisenhower and his moderate allies won that fight, diminishing the influence of extremists like Joe McCarthy, Hagel said.

But today, the extremists are winning.

“Now the Republican Party is in the hands of the right, I would say the extreme right, more than ever before,” said Hagel. “You’ve got a Republican Party that is having difficulty facing up to the fact that if you look at what happened during the first 8 years of the century, it was under Republican direction.”

Yesterday former Bush speech writer David Frum discussed the extremism of the GOP, repeating a recent argument by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein that the core of our political problems today stems from the current extremism of the Republican Party:

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

After discussing the work of Mann and Ornstein, Frum went on to explain how the Republicans build support out of fear–with many acting out of fear to vote for Republicans contrary to their self-interest:

In these times, we are debating whether government should impose large reductions in programs or impose big increases in taxes — taking from people benefits that they now enjoy.

Human beings will typically fight much more ferociously to keep what they possess than to gain something new. And the constituencies that vote Republican happen to possess the most and thus to be exposed to the worst risks of loss.

The Republican voting base includes not only the wealthy with the most to fear from tax increases, but also the elderly and the rural, the two constituencies that benefit the most from federal spending and thus have the most to lose from spending cuts.

All those constituencies together fear that almost any conceivable change will be change for the worse from their point of view: higher taxes, less Medicare, or possibly both. Any attempt to do more for other constituencies — the unemployed, the young — represents an extra, urgent threat to them.

That sense of threat radicalizes voters and donors — and has built a huge reservoir of votes and money for politicians and activists who speak as radically as the donors and voters feel.

Which means the solution to the problems so astutely diagnosed by Mann and Ornstein must ultimately be found outside the American political system — and will not be solved until America’s rich and America’s elderly become either less fearful or more generous.

Add to that the racism, homophobia, and xenophobia of the Republicans, who scare conservative voters into fearing that people who are not exactly like them will take away what they have or otherwise represent a threat.

In an atmosphere such as this, there is no point in searching for a centrist position, treating the Republicans and Democrats as being on opposite ends of the spectrum with equally valid viewpoints to consider. As Mann and Ornstein pointed out, the problem comes from one party being extreme, and unwilling to work towards real solutions.

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Politics Is A Game Of Inches

Thomas Friedman once again wants Michael Bloomberg to run for president. We currently have a center-left candidate from the Democrats and a combination center-left, centrist, and far-right candidate from the Republicans depending upon which positions Romney decides he wants to hold on any particular day. The big problem with Friedman and others who want to see a centrist candidate run and break the partisan gridlock is that the positions such people tend to advocate are essentially the positions held by Democrats. Steve Benen explained:

Friedman wants a party that will commit to investing in infrastructure, education, and short-term economic growth, but is also willing to make concessions and compromises on long-term fiscal challenges on entitlements. But he’s also under the impression that the two-party system is failing him — even though one of the major parties already agrees with him.

The columnist wants Bloomberg to run as independent in order to push Democrats to be more … Democratic?

Matthew Yglesias argues that this won’t even help Friedman’s problem with dropped calls.

I guess politics is a game of inches. Michael Bloomberg is perhaps inches closer to the center than Obama, making him preferable to people like Thomas Friedman. Similarly it takes just a very slight increase in the top marginal tax rate to make Obama a socialist in the eyes of the know-nothing right while the Republicans (who have done more than any group, including true socialists, to destroy a working system of capitalism) are their heroes.

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Independent Voters Can Be Won By Democrats–With the Right Arguments

A swing state poll from Global Strategy Group has some good news for Obama, and a lesson as to how Democrats should concentrate on attracting more independent voters. They found that swing state independents prefer Obama by six points, but over a third remain undecided. The generic Congressional ballot is tied, with six in ten remaining undecided.

There is a key finding which I am totally unsurprised by but which I fear many Democratic strategists don’t get:

We find that Swing Independents are “opportunity” voters—preferring an optimistic, opportunity framework on the economy over one based on fairness. Why? Opportunity addresses their anxieties about the future, concerns that America is slipping, doubts about how the next generation will succeed, and questions over how we will strengthen our economy.

We all know that Republican voters are motivated by greed, in their case by promises of lower taxes. Other voters are also motivated by self-interest. There are strong arguments as to why Democratic policies lead to a stronger economy and higher incomes. These arguments will win votes, but arguments based upon fairness will not. Sure there are strong arguments that the increase in income disparity, unprecedented since the gilded age, is harmful to the economy as well as unfair. That just doesn’t make a clear enough “elevator pitch” to win elections.

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In What Universe Does This Promote Liberty?

Here’s another reason I don’t take the Libertarian Party seriously. Bob Barr, the last Libertarian Party candidate for President in 2008, is supporting Newt Gingrich. And they wonder why many people just see libertarians as Republicans who have smoked marijuana.

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Mitt Romney No Longer Has The Support Of Independents

Mitt Romney previously was thought to be a strong general election choice for the Republican Party because of an ability to compete with Barack Obama among independent voters. That no longer appears to be true. Mitt Romney’s unfavorability ratings are soaring among independent voters. Greg Sargent summarizes the results from the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll:

In November, Romney was rated somewhat or very negatively by 22 percent of independents.

In December, Romney was rated somewhat or very negatively by 29 percent of independents.

And in the new poll, Romney was rated somewhat or very negatively by 42 percent of independents — 20 points higher than two months ago.

Also: In November, Romney was beating Obama 47-34 among those voters. Now the numbers are upside down: Obama is beating Romney 44-36.

This is probably because of the questions about his taxes and years at Bain Capital. I would like to think it might also be because independents are figuring out that Romney’s main attacks on Obama, from claiming he has been apologizing for America to his claim that Obama is responsible for three times as many regulations on business as George Bush, are outright lies.

I also hope that other elements of Romney’s past further reduce his favorability among independents. Gawker has been looking at an old Mormon practice of converting the dead to Mormonism:

The Mormon church has repeatedly been criticized for its practice of trawling for dead souls to convert to the faith. Catholic and Jewish organizations have expressed outrage when the names of dead popes and Holocaust victims have turned up on Mormon lists of the baptized. In 1995, the church pledged to “discontinue any future baptisms of deceased Jews” except for direct descendents of living Mormons, tacitly acknowledging that its creepy and weird to claim the souls of people who had no interest in Mormonism for their own.

They found that Mitt Romney’s atheist father-in-law was converted posthumously to Mormonism by the Romney family:

Two readers have sent us confirmation that Edward Davies, Mitt Romney’s militantly atheist father-in-law, was indeed posthumously converted to Mormonism by his family, despite the fact that when he was alive he regarded all religions as “hogwash.”

As we mentioned yesterday, Ann Romney’s Welsh-born father (who Mitt mentioned in last night’s debate to shore up his pro-immigrant bona fides) was an engineer, inventor, and resolute atheist who disdained all organized religion and raised his children accordingly. Davies, his son Roderick told the Boston Globe in 2007, regarded the faithful as “weak in the knees.” But when Mitt began seeing Davies’ daughter Ann, the Romney family launched a concerted effort to convert not only Ann but her entire family to Mormonism. And they were wildly successful: Within a year of meeting Ann, Mitt and his father had converted all three of Edward Davies’ children. Days before she died in 1993, Ann Romney’s mother asked to be converted as well. Edward Davies was the only member of his clan whose soul the Romneys never claimed for their church.

Until he died. According to this entry in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ genealogical database, Davies was baptized as a Mormon at a “special family meeting” 14 months after his death: “All ordinances except sealing to spouse performed in Salt Lake Temple on 19 Nov 1993 in special family meeting,” the entry says. (When we previously asked the church whether Davies had been baptized, a spokesperson told us that the information was available only to his family and church members. But it’s apparently right there on the internet for those who know what to look for.)

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Nader Gives Up On Challenging Obama

Ralph Nader, the man who helped give us George Bush and the Iraq War, has conceded defeat in his activities which would increase the chance of making Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich our next president. The Hill reports that Nader has given up on his attempt to launch a primary challenge against Barack Obama. “I hate to say but it’s over,” Nader told The Hill. One can only hope that this applies to Ralph Nader’s involvement in politics and not only his current activities.

Nader held the naive view that challenging Obama would move the country towards the left. The Hill commented on this fallacy:

Presidential history, however, suggests that a primary challenge would have weakened Obama.

Presidents Ford, Carter, and George H.W. Bush all faced primary challenges during their reelection campaigns and all lost in the general election. Some political analysts also attribute Vice President Al Gore’s defeat in 2000 to former Sen. Bill Bradley’s primary challenge.

Others have also pointed to Nader’s 2000 bid as a spoiler for Gore. In the swing state of Florida that year, Nader received 97,488 votes. Gore officially lost the Sunshine State by 537 votes.

Nader was also naive enough to be surprised by opposition to his efforts from the White House. The move of the New Hampshire primary to early January is also cited as  interfering with Nader’s efforts, but I doubt they would have been successful even if this was not done.

While some on the left have also considered a challenge to Obama, others realize the folly of such efforts:

While parts of the left are dismayed with Obama, there are many leading progressives who believe a primary challenge would be political suicide.

The co-chairmen of the House Progressive Caucus, Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), have both said the Democratic Party needs to be 100 percent behind Obama.

Ellison in September claimed a primary opponent would “undermine our unity, and we need everybody in the same boat.”

Former Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) this week said that Nader “bears a lot of the responsibility for George W. Bush for eight years” and scoffed at the effort to challenge Obama from the left.

Obey told The Hill, “I mean let’s get serious: We have the gravest threat to progressive government that I have seen in all the years I’ve seen in politics.

“And if Obama can’t win in the next election, progressivism will take a huge, huge hit. Anybody who wants to nitpick with him as the nominee of our party is smoking something that isn’t legal. It’s ridiculous. I mean we will rise or fall based on how Obama does.”

The best way to bring about liberal change would be to consolidate the reforms made by Obama and attempt to achieve more in the future. There are no faults in the actions of Barack Obama which would be improved upon by helping a Republican become our next president.

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Quote of the Day

“Donald Trump said he was going to run for president and then he didn’t run. But now he may be serious because I understand he has demanded to see his own birth certificate.” –David Letterman

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Trump Registers As Independent, Continuing To Hint At Running

Donald Trump’s talk of running for president has often seemed to be more a publicity stunt than a real campaign. After most of the Republicans backed out of the debate he was scheduled to moderate, Trump decided against moderating, saying he had not ruled out running himself. There is increased speculation that Trump might run as an Independent now that he changed his registration from Republican to Independent. Trump has been both a Democrat and Republican at various times in the past.

Trump is also speaking with Americans Elect, who have been engaging in what has appeared to be a futile attempt to run a serious third party candidate. Trump’s fame and money could provide them with a way to make an impact in 2012.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump once again tells television viewers to turn into the final episode of Celebrity Apprentice to hear his answer. After he pulled this stunt last year it was later found that the show had been recorded earlier with no announcement. However, there is also the possibility that he decided against running for the Republican nomination as that would have prevented him from doing his show this season. By delaying until this year, Trump could wait until Apprentice finishes the season to enter the race. Assuming he loses, he could be back on the show next winter or spring.

 

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As I Predicted, Stressing Income Inequality Loses Potential Supporters

A recent Gallup Poll demonstrates the point I was making in a recent post arguing that arguments beyond income inequality are necessary to obtain widespread support on economic issues.  In the post I argued that the Occupy Wall Street movement needs to stress the actual economic issues rather than getting bogged down in fights over their tactics, and then moved on to the framing of the issue around income inequality:

I also think that “income inequality” is not the right term to use. There always will be, and should be, differences in earning based upon skills and achievement. Many hearing of protests against income inequality misunderstand it to believe the movement, and liberals, oppose such appropriate levels of inequality. It only feeds into the ridiculous view on the right that liberals such as Obama are socialists. Reading the conservative blogs shows the degree of misunderstanding of the issue, with many conservatives finding it to be some sort of contradiction when affluent liberals, and not just the unemployed, show concern over the concentration of wealth by the ultra-wealthy.

The real issue is the considerable increase in income concentration in the top 1 percent (and top one tenth of one percent) in recent years,  which has been exacerbated by government policy. Inequality may or may not be acceptable depending upon the specifics, but it is this degree of concentration of the wealth of this nation by a tiny plutocracy which is not. Other points which should be stressed are the decrease in upward mobility and the weakening of the middle class.

Americans typically have no problem with the wealthy, hoping to have the chance to join them. Stressing income inequality does not appeal to many of them. Stressing the fact that it is now harder for those in the middle class to become wealthy than in the past would be a far more compelling argument. Weakening the middle class means that middle class individuals have a far greater chance of winding up among the poor than the wealthy is an important wake-up call about the direction this country is moving in. Ultimately the weakening of the middle class is even harmful to the top 1 percent–a reason why many wealthy individuals have come out in recent weeks to support Democratic policies. They know that the tiny increases in marginal tax rates being proposed will not harm them, and certainly will not reduce job creation.

Gallup found that between 2008 and 2011 less people see America as being divided between haves and have-nots. This includes a drop from 48 percent to 37 percent among independents. Reducing  the income gap is not a key priority among independents: “While 72% of Democrats say it is extremely or very important to reduce the income and wealth gap between rich and poor, 43% of independents and 21% of Republicans agree.”Far more independents (82 percent) find policies to expand and grow the economy to be extremely or very important (with another 12 percent finding this somewhat important).

It is not that opposing income inequality and supporting economic growth are mutually exclusive. The unprecedented  degree of concentration of wealth in a small group (which is the real issue as opposed to simply inequality) is one of the forces which is destabilizing the economy. In stressing income inequality, the Occupy Wall Street movement fails to obtain the support of many independents who would support policies to strengthen the middle class and expand the economy.

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Independents Realize That Republicans Are Hindering Economic Recovery

While there has always been conflict between the political parties, Republicans have taken this to a new level. Republicans have made it clear that their number one priority was for Barack Obama to fail, and they have pursued this goal regardless of how much harm is done to the country. While the filibuster has been used for ages, the Republicans have changed the nature of the filibuster in almost routinely forcing the Democrats to have sixty votes to pass bills, resulting in an unprecedented number of filibusters while the Republicans have been in the minority.  Once taking control of the House, they have used their power to pass legislation to kill jobs and block Obama’s plans which would increase jobs and help prevent another recession. Finally, what was once unthinkable is now being openly discussed: the Republicans are using their power to prevent economic recovery in the hope that this helps them win in 2012. This may or may not work as two polls now show that a majority of independents and moderates realize that this is the case.

The first poll was limited to Florida:

With 51 percent of voters saying that jobs and the economy are the most pressing issues in the nation today, 49 percent said they believe that the Republicans are intentionally hindering efforts to boost the economy so that President Barack Obama will not be reelected. Thirty-nine percent disagreed. As expected, most registered Democrats (70 percent) agreed that Republicans are intentionally hindering the economy and hurting Obama, but independents (52 percent) and even some Republicans (24 percent) also agreed.

A national poll found comparable results today:

…the Post poll asks people to choose between two options. This: “President Obama is making a good faith effort to deal with the country’s economic problems, but the Republicans in Congress are playing politics by blocking his proposals and programs.” Or this: “President Obama has not provided leadership on the economy, and he is just blaming the Republicans in Congress as an excuse for not doing his job.”

The toplines: Americans agree with the first statement over the second one, 50-44. According to numbers sent my way by the Post polling team, this is more pronounced among moderates and independents:

* Independents favor statement one over statement two by 54-40.

* Moderates favor statement one over statement two by 57-37.

The overall number is lower, at 50 percent, because a hilariously meager nine percent of Republicans believe this to be the case.

The results are encouraging but do  not mean that Obama won’t have difficulties in running for reelection with a weak economy. I’ve seen multiple elections were polls showed that voters agreed with Democrats on the issues but voted Republican. That result was largely due to voters being unaware of how closely Democratic positions matched their own because of the considerable amount of distortion of Democratic views coming from the right wing noise machine, but unless Democrats do a better job of connecting the dots for less knowledgeable voters, I fear that these polling results will also fail to lead to votes.

Now that there are polls showing that voters are receptive to the facts regarding this argument, the Democrats need to get the message out. Democrats tend to have the facts supporting their case hidden away in intellectual publications while Republicans loudly repeat their misinformation until too many people see their lies as facts. Democrats need to make more noise about what has really been happening with the economy with messages including:

  • Republican ideas have caused the economic problems, and the Republicans are working hard to prevent recovery for political gain
  • The nature of the political system allows the Republicans to block plans for economic recovery
  • Republicans have made passage of needed legislation even more difficult with their unprecedented use of the filibuster
  • There is no evidence that a slight increase in the marginal tax rate on millionaires will hinder the economy–in contrast we have seen considerable economic growth during periods with much higher tax rates
  • The Republican claim that Democrats are putting more regulations on business and hindering the economy are also false.
  • Reducing spending in areas where it either harms the middle class or neglects infrastructure further weakens the economy.

 

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