Friday, June 26, 2009

The GOP Took Themselves Out of the Conversation

In a sneaky little bit of post-structuralism, Steve Huntley of the Chicago Sun-Times worries that the Obama administration is "silencing other voices" on important public policy issues.
With Democrats in total control of the House and close to it in the Senate, fierce partisanship, long-cherished liberal goals and the pent-up energy of the Democratic left are driving the transformational agenda. There's no argument many of the bills address problems needing a fix, but that's best achieved with at least a degree of bipartisan support. Yet we're being force-fed a liberal prescription. A crowded agenda controlled by Democrats and a White House push for quick action crowd out competing views.
Actually, there is a ferocious debate going on between progressive and moderate Democrats on the whole range of issues before. Funding the war in Afghanistan, the financial bailout package, reforming the financial regulatory system, health care reform, and energy legislation have all been objects of considerable debate within the Democratic Party. Debate on the financial bailout ebbed back and forth as Nancy Pelosi and David Obey of the House staked out progressive positions and moderates like Claire McCaskill called for rolling back some of the spending and restrictions on the financial industry.

The same thing is happening with health care. Progressive Democrats pretty much control legislation in the House but moderate Democrats like Kent Conrad, Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, and Kay Hagan have been calling key elements of the Obama plan like the public option into question.

Of course, Steve Huntley is not referring to these debates. He's probably not even referring to the impact of Maine Republican Susan Collins on the financial bailout. Huntley's article reads like he agrees with most conservatives in thinking that moderate Republicans, moderate Democrats, and progressive Democrats are all just "liberals." For a mainstream right-winger like Rush Limbaugh, there's no distinction between Colin Powell and Henry Waxman. They're both liberals to Limbaugh and he would probably add that he likes Waxman's "honest" liberalism better.

But then, why aren't conservatives a big part of the debate on the major public policy issues before Congress. The answer is simple. Conservatives have taken themselves out of the debate. Conservatives Republicans in Congress didn't want a stimulus package at all and drove Arlen Specter out of the GOP for supporting the final stimulus bill. The same is the case with health care. The conservatives in Congress don't see any problems with the American health care system. They don't see any problems with 45 million uninsured Americans (they can go to emergency rooms according to former President Bush), don't see a problem with high pharmaceutical costs, and don't see a problem with the U. S. lagging behind other advanced economies in so many measures of public health. Conservatives don't want health care reform, have no health care reform ideas of their own outside the rejected "medical savings account" scheme, and don't want to compromise with Obama on his proposals.

Conservative ideas are not part of policy debate because conservatives aren't interested. The right responded to the financial bailout with the tea party protests where they expressed their real concerns over whether Obama is a Marxist, fascist, Muslim, or an American at all. Rick Perry got big cheers for speculating about Texas secession and Ayn Rand got even bigger cheers for the idea of wealthy people taking their marbles and going home.

Those are the kind of things in which conservatives are interested right now.

As a result, the full range of public debate is now occurring within the Democratic Party. If conservatives want their policy concerns expressed, they'll have to do so through the good offices of Democratic moderates like Ben Nelson.

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