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Tilting at Windmills

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October 26, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

GOP LUNACY....Ron Brownstein looks at the ongoing Republican interest group panderfest from a slightly different angle:

On problems ranging from health care to energy, they have retreated to a reflexive denigration of government and praise of unfettered markets aimed squarely at hard-core conservatives. Tellingly, the GOP hopefuls have broken with Bush primarily on the policies — comprehensive immigration reform and the Medicare drug benefit — that he consciously formulated to expand the party base. "It is a tired party and an uncertain party, and it is trying to reach back to ... the tried and true," frets Peter Wehner, the former Bush White House director of strategic initiatives who is now at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center.

After being routed in 2006, many Republican leaders argued that the party lost voters in the middle because it had not been conservative enough, particularly on spending. That's the view the presidential candidates are now reflecting. Giuliani, even with his recent concessions to party conventions on such issues as taxes and guns, pushed against that consensus by stressing national unity and inclusion in his riveting speech to the social conservatives last weekend. But he is a (qualified) exception in a party that seems committed to betting 2008 on the high-risk proposition that the way to recapture the center is to turn further to the right.

Every two years the losing party has this exact same conversation: (a) move to the center to appeal more to swing voters, or (b) move left (right) in order to stay true to the party's liberal (conservative) heritage? My sense is that (b) is almost always the choice after the first loss or two, after which (a) finally wins out.

This year, though, we're in a historically odd position. The Republican Party is still in stage (b), but to a smaller extent, the Democrats are back there too. The Democratic Party spent so long in stage (a) during the 90s, moving aggressively to the center after years in the wilderness, and the GOP moved so far to the right under Gingrich and Bush, that Democrats have the luxury of being able to move modestly to the left and yet still be moving relatively closer to the center than the Republican Party. On a scale of 1 to 10, it's like the GOP is moving right from 8 to 9 while the Democratic party is moving left from 4 to 3.5. The lunacy of the conservative base is providing a huge amount of cover for liberals to make some modest progress this year.

Said lunacy, of course, is best demonstrated by the fact that Brownstein — correctly — identifies Rudy Giuliani as the overall most moderate major candidate in the Republican field. Rudy Giuliani!

Kevin Drum 12:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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OF COURSE that's why we lost in 2006. We weren't Conservative enough. But our greatness and America's greatness knows no bounds, and you liberals will be crushed as we reclaim what everyone really believes. We will have a Beautiful Nominee at whose feet America will fall in admiration.

History is ours. You really don't know anything about anything, do you, Liberals?

Posted by: Free Lover of Freedom and Free Liberty on October 26, 2007 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Giuliani is pretty moderate, on everything except national security. Everyone knows his stances on abortion and gay rights, but even on corporate matters, he's friendly to business but not a complete prostitute. In fact, didn't Giuliani make his bones going after the corporate bigwigs (Milkin, Boesky, etc.) in the 80s?

It still doesn't change the fact that he is probably the worst candidate imaginable, and if elected, I'd give him a 1 in 3 shot at ending civilization as we know it (and I'm only slightly kidding).

Posted by: Joe on October 26, 2007 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

"Said lunacy, of course, is best demonstrated by the fact that Brownstein — correctly — identifies Rudy Giuliani as the overall most most moderate major candidate in the Republican field. Rudy Giuliani!"

How are we supposed to know who the "real" Rudy Giulaini is? He might be the most moderate candidate but his campaign belies that.

The most moderate might be McCain despite his conservatism. Guiliani appears more radical on foreign policy, more radical on tax policy, more radical on torture/terrorism etc.

McCain is conservative, and has badly tarnished his supposed reputation as a straight shooter in his pandering to the right, but at least we still generally know where he stands - dont we.

Where does Guiliani stand these days?

But he is a (qualified) exception in a party that seems committed to betting 2008 on the high-risk proposition that the way to recapture the center is to turn further to the right.

I missed that Guilani so far this year. It seems to confuse that fact that he cant credibly go as far to the right on some hot button issues as some of the candidates as not turning farther to the right. For example there is no question he has turned to the right on abortion even if cant outdo those such as Huckabee who refered to Roe v. Wade as unleasing a Holocaust that resulted in dependence on immigrant labor!


Posted by: CAtch22 on October 26, 2007 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

One of the most telling stories of the problems facing the Republicans is found in the reasons Tom Davis (R-VA) decided not to run against Mark Warner in the VA senatorial race. He said "The Republican Party will continue to lose elections unless it opens itself to social moderates, immigrants and other groups who look to government to protect public schools and reform health care,....Davis said he would hold off for now in part because of what he sees as his party's increasingly narrow focus on candidates who pass conservative litmus tests." Full story is at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2007/10/25/ST2007102501018.html

When a pretty powerful congressman who once headed the Rep Congressional Committee is saying these things, you know there is trouble in River City.

Posted by: Roger on October 26, 2007 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with all of this, though, is that right-wing lunacy is hidden away by their enablers in the MSM. Instead, it's painted as if it's mainstream, good ol' fashioned American values to hate teh gay, teh brown skin, and teh Moslems-terrrrrists.

Vast swaths of the public will be duped, again, because the media will make it so. Dems feel like they're ridding high, but I would never, ever underestimate the manipulative abilities of the right-wing noise machine and their many, many puppets in the press corps.

Posted by: CKT on October 26, 2007 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

well, I think the GOP may finally be onto something. They are right. The middle is fed-up with the rampant spending and bloated budgets coming out of Washington these days. And they are deadon with their assessment that the American public, especially those with a conservative bent, are saying 'enough is enough.' But where they (the GOP) totally miss the point is exactly what type of spending is pissing off the center.

To coin a phrase: "It's the War, stupid!"

Looking to save $20 billion on child-care while asking for $200 billion in further war funding is akin to putting regular gas instead of super into your Ferrari because it's 20 cents cheaper. I don't run my own household budget like that. Most Americans don't manage their finances like that. But the GOP thinks out-of-control spending has nothing to do with a military budget that is still 1/2 the size of national GDP.

Yeah guys (GOP nominees) keep preaching about that fiscal restraint. It's going to be resolved; just not the way you think it's going to be.

Posted by: peacefrogx on October 26, 2007 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

I understand that temperment addressed in an earlier post is different, but it might be interesting to hear a reconcilliation of how Guiliani is both:
1. Rudy Giuliani as the overall most most moderate major candidate in the Republican field.

and

2.Picking the worst is easy. Rudy Giuliani is the guy you'd get if you put George Bush and Dick Cheney into a wine press and squeezed out their pure combined essence: unbounded arrogance and self-righteousness, a chip on his shoulder the size of a redwood, a studied contempt for anybody's opinion but his own, a vindictive streak a mile wide, and a devotion to secrecy and executive power unmatched in presidential history. He is a disaster waiting to happen.

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2007_10/012341.php

Perhaps it needs be made clear that the phrase moderate is used in the limited sense of stated policy positions only (excluding foreign?) and NOT in any way to describe disposition.

Posted by: Catch22 on October 26, 2007 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Your 1 to 10 scale idea is a rhetorical device used to quickly illustrate a point, but let's really think for a second about where the GOP is at. If you constrain the 1-10 range to policy choices consistent with obediance to the Constitution, then today's GOP is somewhere around 14.

Posted by: Greg in FL on October 26, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

I wouldn't necessarily say Bush moved to the far right on economic issues. He did reduce tax rates, which I guess would count as right-wing. OTOH he moved left by adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare and by dramatically increasing federal spending on education. More broadly, he increased government spending a lot. OTOH

I don't believe the Reps have a viable candidate as right-wing as Ronald Reagan. The reason observers see pressure on the Reps to move right is precisely because they have moved away from Reagan's small-government principles. A lot of us would like to see a return to smaller government.

I think whether to continue or end the Bush tax cuts will be a very big issue in the campaign.

Posted by: ex-liberal on October 26, 2007 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with some of the other complaints about your scaling.

You seem to use a scale the way many pundits talk about "what Americans believe," with no idea that there are actually objective measures of these things called polls, and that one can be factually wrong in making claims about what Americans believe.

Similarly, how do you conclude Democrats are at 6 or 6.5? Presumably, this is just your pundit instinct at work, pulling a number out of your intuition. But there are real (albeit varying) answers to this question. For instance, if you compare Democratic positions to polled positions (not mentioning party), Democrats are actually to the right of a plurality of Americans on a variety of issues. One may debate how exactly an absolute scale should be devised, but there are much more definite and factual answers than just making something up. Do some research!

Posted by: JD on October 26, 2007 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal writes:

The reason observers see pressure on the Reps to move right is precisely because they have moved away from Reagan's small-government principles.

Right. Those "small government" principles that added $1 trillion to the US debt. And Bush moved away from those principles how, exactly?

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on October 26, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Giuliani is pretty moderate, on everything except national security. Everyone knows his stances on abortion and gay rights, but even on corporate matters, he's friendly to business but not a complete prostitute.

Guiliani's stance on shooting unarmed black men doesn't appear to be all that moderate....

Posted by: Disputo on October 26, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, when were those "years in the wilderness" that prompted the Dems move to the center in the 90s? If you're going to date the Repub resurgence to Gingrich, then it begins in 94 and you're focusing on the Congress. But you sound like you're talking about Repub presidencies casting the Dems "into the wilderness" from 1981 to 1993.
So which is it?
Or is it just the same reconstructed memory of "excessive leftism" that has produced a nearly two-decade-long Democratic defensive cringe?

Posted by: Jim M on October 26, 2007 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

I think whether to continue or end the Bush tax cuts will be a very big issue in the campaign.

Since Bush himself signed the legislation that ends them, that's good enough for me.

Posted by: Gregory on October 26, 2007 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

I don't mean to nitpick, but don't you mean moving left from 6.5 to 6, not the other way around? I had to read that a couple of times, so others probably will, too.

Posted by: shortstop on October 26, 2007 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

I don't mean to nitpick, but don't you mean moving left from 6.5 to 6, not the other way around? I had to read that a couple of times, so others probably will, too.

It's actually a move closer to 6.25, with a heavy emphasis on approaching 6 and 1/16ths. On the issue of protectionism, that shifts the balance to a 6 and 3/8ths.

Posted by: Norman Rogers on October 26, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Daryl McCullough: Right. Those "small government" principles that added $1 trillion to the US debt. And Bush moved away from those principles how, exactly?

One was was in the rhetoric. It's true that Reagan allowed government spending to rise. But, at least he argued and campaigned in favor of reducing the size of government. Note that Reagan had to contend with a Democratic Congress for much of his Presidency. Even so, he added less to domestic spending than Bush did.

Bush campaigned in favor of "compassionate conservatism", wnich translates into increased government involvement. He fulfilled that promise, with NCLB and Medicare prescription drugs. The only question about SCHIP is how much it will expand. There's no support at all for shrinking it.

The current crop of Republican candidates don't focus on the desirability of shrinking the government. If they don't even talk about it, they certainly won't do it.

Posted by: ex-liberal on October 26, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Clinton stole the Republicans thunder on welfare reform, and Bush grabbed the liberal banner with pandering to Latins and high profile affirmative action appointments, like the incompetent Dr. Rice and Pancho Gonzales; Kennedy/Bush immigration corruption; Kennedy/Bush education; spending; etc.

The result is parties with no common philosophy among their members except ambition and corruption.

Posted by: Luther on October 26, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

One was was in the rhetoric. It's true that Reagan allowed government spending to rise. But, at least he argued and campaigned in favor of reducing the size of government. Note that Reagan had to contend with a Democratic Congress for much of his Presidency. Even so, he added less to domestic spending than Bush did.

Hush.

You've wandered into territory that is above your paygrade. We need no further commentary from you.

Ronald Wilson Reagan cut taxes and gave us the best economy, ever. A Democrat Congress, hamstrung by the likes of Tip O'Neill and Dan Rostenkowski, forced tax increases into the mix and slowed remarkable growth. Reagan did not request nor did he agree with those tax increases but he acquiesced in large part because he was getting terrible advice. He should have governed from his wheelhouse, which was a Westernized sort of free market economics place.

I cringe when ignorant people talk about these things. Show of hands--who here made more than $25K a year in the 1980s? I was making twenty-five times that amount and more, counting commissions, and I was living in Manhattan. I rode the crest of a mighty wave through the heart of the American dream and that rising tide--it raised quite a few boats along with it.

We departed from the script when those Bushes took over; we abandoned the script for 8 years of hillbilly hijinks. I was pleased at first with the son of Bush; now I think he's just a liberal in tight pants, propped up by some Texas money men. Those of us in the Republican Party who suspected that Bush was not one of us held our tongues.

But no longer! I will not support this reckless administration anymore. Except when it comes to the war. I'm all for the war.

Posted by: Norman Rogers on October 26, 2007 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

History has shown that simple-minded people prefer the certainty and lack of ambiguity associated with fascist policies like those espoused by the hard-right wing of the Republican Party. That way - they don't have to think, they just have to feel. It is a very basal, reptilian need. It takes work and it is stressful to actually have to think through complex issues and engage in the classical intellectual Aristotleian exercise of; thesis vs. anti-thesis = synthesis.

It also gives them more time to watch Dancing With the Stars....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on October 26, 2007 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

It's true that Reagan allowed government spending to rise. But, at least he argued and campaigned in favor of reducing the size of government.

In other words, "ex-liberal" prefers his Presidents to be failures, hypocrites, or both.

But then, since he supports George W. Bush and the modern Republican Party, this is obvious.

Posted by: Gregory on October 26, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

It also gives them more time to watch Dancing With the Stars....

Thank the Creator we have an elitist like yourself who can hold his nose and sneer at the voters without spilling his latte.

Tell me, how smart is it to denigrate the tastes of the people whose votes you need? How often do we hear a left-coast suede-jacketed hipster with a goatee and a smirk and a bad haircut tell us what works and what doesn't work? It would seem to me that if anything you were saying was even remotely accurate, President Kerry would be haranguing us right now with his desire to put a man on Mars by using a slingshot paid for with his wife's largesse.

The American people don't appreciate being sneered at. David Letterman found this out. In a perfect world, he'd be sitting in Malibu right now, with nine weeks off per year, a comfy place in history as the successor to Johnny Carson and plenty of respect and admiration. But he made the fatal mistake of being too big for his britches. He sneered at the common folk from which he sprang. Did you know that, in the mid-1980s, we would socialize together? Letterman was not a big socializer to begin with, but I knew quite a few people from that industry and I spent a good amount of time at Rockefeller Center. Letterman HATED commonality, HATED anyone with more common sense than himself, and he generally just HATED people with a venom I cannot describe. But Jay Leno has always basically liked people and has enjoyed great success entertaining the people that you, "the conservative deflator," think are willing sheep.

You know something about hate, don't you sir? Well, suck on this plate of eggs--the American people prefer Leno over Letterman, precisely because he doesn't talk down to them.

Posted by: Norman Rogers on October 26, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

In a field of complete drooling lunatics, the merely insane one would, by comparison, seem to be a reasonable human being.

Posted by: CN on October 26, 2007 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

A Corporate Boondogle Dressed up as something else is not Liberal

OTOH he moved left by adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare and by dramatically increasing federal spending on education. More broadly, he increased government spending a lot.

That betrays a simpleminded and false equivalence with government spending as a liberal trait. Here is a hint: Look at both who drafted, supported and voted for the so called Meidcare Modernization Act. The Pharmaceutical and Insurance industries drafted the MMA. The Republicans who sheparded it through Congress now have highpaying lobbyist positions. The vote was narrow and overwhelming supported by Republicans and oppposed by Democrats and liberals. The Bush administration lied about the cost to the American taxpayers, his CMS Administrator who was shopping for a pharmacuetical lobbying job at the time threatend to fire federal employees if they told Congress or even other Repubilcans, the GOP strongarmed the vote holding it open for the longest period in history and essentially resorted to extortion.

The MMA is best described as a corporate sell out that put the interests of industry over the American people, in the end we got a program we cant afford with the primary benefit going to the phramacuetical and insurance industries.

Posted by: CAtch22 on October 26, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Remember back in the 70s, that great outfit, Firesign Theatre, and their candidate's slogan? "Not Insane" The Repubican who can most claim the non-insane mantle is Fred Thompson, it seems. (Romney may not be particularly insane, but he is so without a moral compass . . .)

Posted by: MaxGowan on October 26, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

norm's a dick

Posted by: peacefrogx on October 26, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, ex-liberal, how many other hands do you have? I was trained as an economist and typically the "on the other hand" is used to describe two possible explanations for a set of data or a differing outcome due to some exogenous variable not initially considered in reviewing the data.

Maybe this set of extra other hands explains the schizophrenic nature of GwB's administration. Fiscal liberal, social conservative, incompetent administrator, etc. OTOH, cognitive dissonance probably explains quite a lot of the Republican reaction to him.

Posted by: TJM on October 26, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

God knows, Democrats would never pander to special interest groups.

Posted by: Brian on October 26, 2007 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe this set of extra other hands explains the schizophrenic nature of GwB's administration.

All those extra hands come in (sorry) handy for the GOP. They use them to point fingers at Clinton for Bush's screwups, pick the pockets of the middle class and signal for anonymous bathroom sex.

Posted by: shortstop on October 26, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

On a scale of 1 to 10, it's like the GOP is moving right from 8 to 9

Well, a few caveats. It's the primaries, so of course the candidates are running towards the right to appeal to their base to try and lock up the nomination. Also, the two presumptive front-runners, Giuliani and Romney, have to run even farther to the extreme right in order to convince (fool) Republicans that they are not as moderate as their political history suggests.

After being routed in 2006, many Republican leaders argued that the party lost voters in the middle because it had not been conservative enough, particularly on spending.

This is nonsense - the primary reason Republicans lost is because of the Iraq war, period. The Democrats weren't doing much of anything right other than being outspoken about the handling of the war. The other (albeit minor) contributing factor is that the Republicans were being too extreme and corrupt. If anything, it almost defies belief how willing the electorate was willing to put up with one Republican scandal after another - one of the few to make a difference was the GOP's harboring of the pedophile Mark Foley.

Running further to the right isn't going to help them. And frankly, I would be extremely surprised if the Republicans do anything other than run to the center during the general election.

Posted by: Augustus on October 26, 2007 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Norman Rogers, please keep writing. You speak so much sense and have supreme command of facts.

Nothing you say can possibly be countered in any way.

Of course we need small government. The private sector is doing Just Fine, Thank you, in taking care of our health care and housing needs. Got a problem with that? Then get a better job, stupid liberals! There is NO LUCK in this world. None. Get it, Liberals?

You are a Genius American. Like all Conservatives.

Posted by: Free Lover of Freedom and Free Liberty on October 26, 2007 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, Jay Leno is a liberal. I know a high school friend of his (Massachusetts). He just is pretty good about having members of both parties as guests on his show.

Posted by: Frank C on October 26, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Considering GOP lunacy, Charles Pierce, as usual, is right on in his anaylsis of the presidential candidates.

Posted by: AJ on October 26, 2007 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

It's become painfully obvious that Ron Brownstein has been inside thw D.C. Beltway far too long. The Los Angeles Times should re-assign him, preferably to its Fresno bureau, eher he can report breathlessly on the impact of global warming on the Central Valley's raisin harvest.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on October 26, 2007 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

brian: "God knows, Democrats would never pander to special interest groups."

Democratic special interest groups don't advocate for the use of torture on prisoners, don't seek to punish children for being the offspring of immigrants, don't place hundreds of thousands of American citizens on a terrorist watch list simply because they speak truth to power, and don't offer the services of armed mercenaries to the highest bidder.

You're such a chickenhawk putz, brian. Why don't you show the courage of your convictions, and join the Army and volunteer for Baghdad duty, instead of spewing far-right partisan crap like a sick bird's ass?

Hell, I'll even give you full credit for the above if you join Blackwater.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on October 26, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

I noticed that during the coverage of the California wildfires, there were no TV interviews of conservatives complaining about the government's efforts to stop the fires and save homes and lives. Since we're always hearing about how the gummit wastes our hard-earned tax dollars, why isn't the MSM requesting their point of view?

Posted by: keith roberts on October 26, 2007 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, the market was at work as AIG provided private contractor firemen to policyholders.

`The vegetation lit on fire, and it was five feet from the house,'' said Crays, 28. He turned his hose on the flames, and the home was saved.

Crays doesn't work for a local fire department or the California Department of Forestry. He works for American International Group Inc., the world's largest insurer.

Posted by: TJM on October 26, 2007 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

Daryl McCullough: Those "small government" principles that added $1 trillion to the US debt. And Bush moved away from those principles how, exactly?


actually....

the gop and gwb added about 3-trillion to the national debt by cutting taxes and over-spending

when gwb came it...national debt was about 5.7-trillion..

its currently just over 9-trillion...

that's a 50% rise in about 6-years..

http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/

heckofajob

Posted by: mr. irony on October 27, 2007 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

GOP: We haven't been conservative enough. Let's return to roots--lower taxes and less spending.

America: George Bush piled up record debt fighting irrational wars.

GOP: George who?

Posted by: green heron on October 27, 2007 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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