Saturday, May 02, 2009

Conservatives Might Try The Exodus Strategy

Peggy Noonan throws cold water on the Republican idea of "shrinking to win:"

All the metaphors here are tired, so let's stick with the big tent. A big tent is held up by tent poles. No poles, no tent. No poles, all you have is a big collapsed canvas. The poles that keep up the tent are the party's essential beliefs. Republicans over the next few years should define what each of their tent poles stands for—a strong defense being an obvious pole, a less demanding and intrusive government being another, a natural affection and respect for tradition and for life being a third . . .

But also, the people inside can't always be kicking people out of the tent. A great party cannot live by constantly subtracting, by removing or shunning those who are not faithful to every aspect of its beliefs, or who don't accept every pole, or who are just barely fitting under the tent . . . . Especially in those cases when Republican incumbents and candidates are attempting to succeed in increasingly liberal states, a certain practical sympathy is in order.

In the party now there is too much ferocity, and bloody-mindedness. The other day Sen. Jim DeMint said he'd rather have 30 good and reliable conservative senators than 60 unreliable Republicans. Really? Good luck stopping an agenda you call socialist with 30 hardy votes. "Shrink to win": I've never heard of that as a political slogan.

Well, if "shrink to win" doesn't work, what does?. Not compromise and negotiation. The conservative core of the Republican Party doesn't believe in negotiating--with ANYBODY. From the conservative point of view, negotiation is weakness and compromise is appeasement. That's the case whether it's with our foreign enemies like Iran, our foreign friends like France, or the domestic opponents of the Republicans like Harry Reid. It's also the case with Republicans who disagree with them. As the neo-cons say, they don't want to negotiate with "evil," they destroy it, and that's true whether the evil is North Korea, Arlen Specter, or Olympia Snowe.

Given the white southern tilt of Republican conservatives, the guiding principles of "no negotiation/no compromise" are rooted in the experience of being masters under the slavery and the master race under segregation. One key to white supremacy in the South was that whites were above the law when it came to race. In their own minds, white southerners thought they could do almost whatever they wanted with black people whenever they wanted. There was no need for negotiation, no need for compromise, and no need to worry about the law, public opinion, the media, or anything else. Far from being hidden and furtive, lynchings were community celebrations of the power of white people. Southern whites were masters of the racial domain and they exulted in reminding everyone of that.

Teaching in Kentucky, I'm continually reminded of just how slow and hesitant the retreat from white supremacy has been. Actually, a large number of the white students in my classes don't think anything has changed at all. The point isn't that racism continues (although it does), it's that a lot of the Southern whites involved in the conservative movement took their disgust with any idea of negotiation and compromise to Washington when they got elected to Congress, started serving in the Bush administration, or went to work for think tanks and lobbying firms.
Conservatives aren't going to open up to Northeastern moderates, African-Americans, Hispanics, or anyone else. They just don't believe in it.

Where does that leave conservatives? Given that conservatives don't think much of all that Jesus "turn the other cheek/love your enemies" stuff in the New Testament, they might consider the Exodus model of the Old Testament, Mormonism, or Israel. In the exodus model, one group packs up and moves to an area where they could dominate either as the only people or as an overwhelming majority. I once heard the right-wing economist Walter Williams on Rush Limbaugh's show fantasizing about an exodus in which conservatives would move to Texas, secede from the United States, and set up a free enterprise utopia. Part of the romance of secession in states like Texas and Georgia is to create a homeland in which conservatives no longer have to answer to the rest of liberal, multi-cultural America.

Maybe that's how conservatives will respond to the decline of the Republican Party--figure out a way to leave.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Mark Halperin Goes for the Hits Homer; or Is It Time?

Mark Halperin put this picture of a white guy who's not going to be nominated to the Supreme Court on a blog post entitled "White Men Need Not Apply."

The headline can be viewed as a protest against anti-racism and anti-sexism by a conservative-leaning journalist, an expression of white and male privilege, or evidence that Halperin's world is still ruled by Matt Drudge.

I see it as more of an effort to increase Halperin's blog hits.

The headline doesn't have anything to do with the actual blog post. I bet it was added so Halperin could look "outrageous," stir up "controversy," and raise his blog ranking.

And it worked.

So what's to be learned from this little tempest.

It might be that conservative journalists are in the same boat as conservative politicians. The only way they can draw attention to themselves is to be offensive.

Too bad they're so good at it.

The same can be said for RedState's Eric Erickson's offensive Twitter comments about David Souter.

Hey GOP! Worry about Texas!

Kimberley Strassel writes for the Wall Street Journal that Republicans need to figure out ways to win in the Northeast.
This is different from a message of outreach, which the party also desperately needs, but is accomplished primarily in the field. It involves members explaining to younger constituents why old-fashioned principles of choice and freedom still work for modern problems like health care. It means transmitting a welcome to those attracted to even one part of the conservative philosophy --free markets, strong national security, social values -- even if not all. It requires recruiting candidates who aren't held to stiff litmus tests, but who have a shot of winning in the Northeast, say, or Illinois.
But the Republicans need to worry about the basics first.

There's a great deal of commentary about the Republican Party becoming mostly a southern, Plains, and Rocky Mountains regional party.

But they're slipping in the South and on the Great Plains as well.

Obama won Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida and looked to have a shot in Georgia before fading. Some core Confederate states like South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Louisiana are safe. But the Republicans are much more likely to lose more of the South than they are to regain any footing in the Northeast or Midwest. If the Republicans are smart, they'll think first about protecting their dominant but slipping position in Texas and Georgia and maintaining their competitive status in Florida and North Carolina.

Better hold off on those dreams of reconquering the Northeast. There's a marker on Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg, PA that marks the "high water mark" of the Confederacy.

But right now, the Republicans are barely putting up a fight in Virginia, let alone Pennsylvania.

The same is the story in the Plains and Mountains. The Republicans are safe in Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho, and Kansas, but Obama won Montana and Colorado, came very close in Missouri, took an electoral vote in Nebraska, and was competitive in North Dakota and even Alaska for awhile.

The Republicans need to worry first about maintaining their position in Missouri and remaining competitive in Colorado and Montana before they think too much about flipping states on the West Coast.

The Arlen Specter defection highlights just how bad things are for the Republicans now. But the Republicans are like General Motors. Things are likely to get worse and the Republicans need to focus on protecting what they still have before they don't have anything at all.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Escape from Michele Bachmann: Republicans Launch New Group

It sounds like the Republicans are starting to try to pull themselves off the bottom.

Generally, people in government call for a commission when things go really bad and they don't know what to do about it. One way to tell that things are going horribly for the Republicans is that they're launching a "commission-like" entity entitled the National Council for a New America as an effort to re-brand the Republican Party.

Here's the official gobbledygook that Eric Cantor's office supplied to the Washington Post.
"The NCNA [National Council for a New America] will bring together citizens from across the country to begin a dialogue with the American people through a series of forums, town halls, and an online effort that will engage people in a discussion to meet our common challenges and build a stronger country through common-sense ideas," the letter says. "The NCNA will be a dynamic, forward-looking organization that will amplify the common-sense and wisdom of our fellow citizens through a grassroots dialogue with Republican leaders."

The letter says the group is not "a Republican-only forum." But GOP sources said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor played a top role in creating it. The group seems aimed at offering a conservative alternative at time when Democrats are lambasting the Republicans as the "Party of No" that simply attacks President Obama without offering policy ideas of its own. Its leadership does not include any Democrats.

"We do this not just to offer an alternative point of view or to bedisagreeable," the group's letter says. "Instead, we want to ask the American people what their hopes and dreams are. Since January, the President and the Democratic Majority in Congress have - rightfully so - put forward their plan for the future, now we must listen, learn and lead through an honest, open conversation with the American people that will result in building policy proposals that will yield the best results for our nation's long-term success."

Let me translate this into better political English. Republican political heavyweights have lost control over the Republican Party apparatus, the Republican Party brand, and the Republican Party message. Instead of Republican political, lobbying, and think tank elites disseminating a relatively unified Republican message, the heavyweights see a motley collection of has-beens, right-wing media types, political relatives, and lightweights out there killing the Republican Party with random chatter. Right now, the three most talked about Republicans are Michael Steele, Michele Bachmann, and Glenn Beck and that's just killing the Republican Party.

What the National Council for a New America (NCNA) represents is an attempt by the political leadership to re-assert control over the Republican message. The NCNA is going to send out big names like John McCain, Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, and Eric Cantor to talk about Republican views on energy, health care, and foreign policy in a way that seems less self-indulgent and stupid than Michele Bachmann. In this way, the leadership hopes to cut through all the "conservatives in crisis" chatter and re-establish themselves as the primary spokespeople for the Republican Party. The leadership also hopes to showcase potential Republican presidential candidates like Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Bobby Jindal as well as "elder statesmen" like John McCain. If the Republicans hope to have a credible presidential campaign in 2012, they know they will have to start undoing the damage of the last nine years now.

Don't be surprised if Michael Steele isn't locked in a hotel room somewhere for the first NCNA event next Saturday in Virginia.

What are the chances of the NCNA initiative working? Like most commissions, the odds are something close to zero that they'll any impact. In the case of the Republican Party, the inmates really have seized the asylum and I seriously doubt that party elites are in position to regain control. Far from being a sign of rebirth, the NCNA looks more like evidence of how badly the Republicans are sinking.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Olympia Snowe Wrong--GOP Reaching for Diversity

In response to Arlen Specter switching from the Republicans to the Democrats, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe wrote an op-ed for the New York Times criticizing the Republican Party for its lack of diversity:

When Senator Jeffords became an independent in 2001, I said it was a sad day for the Republicans, but it would be even sadder if we failed to confront and learn from the devaluation of diversity within the party that contributed to his defection . . .

In that same vein, I am reminded of a briefing by a prominent Republican pollster after the 2004 election. He was asked what voter groups Republicans might be able to win over. He responded: women in general, married women with children, Hispanics, the middle class in general, and independents.

How well have we done as a party with these groups? Unfortunately, the answer is obvious from the results of the last two elections. We should be reaching out to these
segments of our population — not de facto ceding them to the opposing party.

The problem with Snowe's analysis is that thinking of diversity in such a conventional manner causes her to miss the current dynamic in the Republican Party. Generally, Americans think of diversity in terms of a specific language of race, gender, sexual orientation, and class. In race, white is the norm and African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans are diversity. With gender, it's a male "norm" and female "diversity." In terms of sexual orientation, heterosexuals are the norm and gay men and lesbians are diversity and middle-class people are the norm and poor people the diversity. This kind of social language is ground into people through all kinds of the media and public education. By the time American students start attending colleges like the one I teach at, most of them have adopted some version of diversity language as a second nature.

This kind of view is continuously and rightly criticized for defining the "norm" as white, male, heterosexual, and middle-class. But it's also hard to get away from. Like every college professor I know, I criticize diversity language and still end up relying on it all the same.

But the conventional language of diversity clearly does not apply to the current situation in the Republican Party. The Republican Party is becoming more diverse despite not fitting within contemporary diversity frameworks. I don't remember seeing a lot of African-Americans or Hispanics among the crowds at the recent Tea Party events. But the Tea Parties were still very diverse affairs with one world conspiracy theorists, Ayn Randians, survivalists, laissez faire purists, anti-immigration activists, libertarians, white racists, the far reaches of the anti-abortion right, and other kinds of groups in attendance. All these strands of white, right-wing sentiment are highly distinct in relation to each other as well as "mainstream" politics. The people who hold these views also highly conscious of that distinctiveness and they also have been very marginalized in American politics and American society to a certain extent. What's happening within the post-Bush Republicans is that Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, and Fox News are reaching out to these constituencies and bringing them into the Republican Party orbit. Unlike Olympia Snowe, I think they're making the Republican Party a significantly more diverse party in the process.

Still, reaching out to these groups is a strategy for losing lots of elections and declining as a party. In fact, the conventional language of diversity locates "diversity" in much larger groups than the groups to which the Republicans are directing their appeals. Women are 52% of the population and vote at higher rates than males. Independents constitute almost 30% percent of the voting public. Hispanics and African-Americans are both about 13% of the population. To the contrary, the strands of right-wing thought represented at the Tea Party rallies are much smaller populations. In fact, I doubt that all the groups who appeared at the Tea Party rallies would equal the Jewish or Muslim populations at about 3%.

The Republican Party is not shrinking because it's not trying to broaden its appeal, it's shrinking because it's broadening it's appeal to such small groups. In the wake of their 2006 and 2008 defeats, the Republicans have reaffirmed their commitment to conservative orthodoxy and are seeking growth by integrating smaller, heretofore marginalized categories of right-wingers into the party apparatus. In other words, they're more committed to the identity politics of the right than winning elections in any but the safest Republican areas.

If Olympia Snowe is going to keep thinking in terms of the conventional discourse of "diversity," she's either going to have to accept increasing marginalization within the Republican Party or leave the party.

Missed the Obama Event Tonight

I've never really liked politicians in action that much--must be the political scientist hostility to "politics" in me. So I tend to avoid Obama events even though I think he's doing an excellent job as president.

Ouch! Economy Shrinks by 6.1%

Suddenly, those "green shoots" and "glimmers of hope" don't look so promising. The Commerce Department reports today that the economy shrank by 6.1% in the first quarter. That's a lot worse than most economists expected. Unemployment is expected to top 10% by the end of the year.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oops! Hundreds Sick from Swine Flu in NYC

I've always been a kind of pandemic skeptic and had hoped that the swine flu outbreak would be as limited as the avian flu outbreak several years ago.

That seems unlikely now though.

There's a report out of New York City that "many hundreds of schoolchildren" are sick with swine flu and reports of people in several countries who got sick as a result of traveling to Mexico.

Swine flu is not exactly the bubonic plague.

All the cases in New York have been pretty mild.

But it seems real.

Pressure Up Slightly on Maine Twins

Now that Arlen Specter has switched to the Democrats, the pressure is going to increase slightly on Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe to do the same.

Collins and Snow are a little more liberal than Specter and have been rated somewhat higher on liberalism scales and lower on conservativism scales than the new Pennsylvania Democrat.

Ranking by American Civil Liberties Union: Collins: 71, Snowe: 86, Specter: 57.
Ranking by American Conservative Union: Collins: 36, Snowe: 28, Specter: 40.

Arlen Specter was barely enough on the liberal side of absolute moderation to justify his claim that the Republican Party had moved away from him. Collins and Snowe are both significantly on the liberal side and least as liberal as Democrats like Ben Nelson (who scores only 60% on the ACLU scale) or Mary Landrieu (at 75%).

Now that Specter is moving to the Democrats, the pressure will increase somewhat on Collins and Snowe to either follow the party line or do the same. From the conservative point of view, the Republican Party doesn't have anything to lose by pressuring the Maine senators to leave because they've already lost the filibuster and Snowe and Collins wouldn't have supported that many filibusters anyway. Actually, I've read somewhere that Collins (an acquaintance of mine from St. Lawrence University) is voting more than 50% with the Obama administration. Maine Republicans don't seem to be as conservative as Pennsylvania Republicans, but Snowe and Collins could find themselves under pressure to vote with the highly conservative Republican caucus as a matter of political identity.

This isn't to say that either Collins or Snowe is ready to switch parties. But they may find themselves such pariahs within the Republican Party that they'll eventually decide to make the change.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Time to Read Those Torture Memos

Mrs. RSI is leaving this morning for two days in Lexington. So, I'll have our daughters by myself. Hmm, it's probably a good time to finish reading those torture memos.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

No Need to De-Nuke Iran

I like the last line of this rant from right-wing extremist columnist Mark Steyn about "post-exceptional America":
You'll recall that, in a gimmick entirely emblematic of post-exceptional America, Hillary Clinton gave the Russians a (mistranslated) "Reset" button. The button has certainly been "reset" – to Sept. 10, to a legalistic rear-view-mirror approach to the "war on terror," in which investigating Bush officials will consume far more time and effort than de-nuking Iran.
Given that Iran doesn't have any nukes, "de-nuking Iran" won't take any effort. Hopefully, we won't be creating a missile defense system to protect us against Iran's non-existent nukes either.

Swing Flu and Industrial Hog Farming?

We have so much to thank conservatives for. I just saw an article tracing the current outbreak of swine flu to the hog factory operations of Smithfield Foods in Mexico.

How does this connect to conservatives? One of the interesting dimensions of the problem is the reluctance of government officials in either Mexico or the U. S. to deal with the problems caused by factory farms. Local people in both countries complain about respiratory illnesses connected to manure lagoons on hog farms. But governments are reluctant to address the issue.

Like the global recession, swine flu might be a consequence of deregulation. Hopefully, the health authorities will be able to limit the spread and virulence of the disease.

With only 21% of the country identifying themselves as Republicans, it appears that conservatism is no longer as virulent as before.