Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 18, 2009

SUBSTANTIVE.... Former Rep. and DLC Chair Harold Ford was on MSNBC's "Hardball" yesterday, and Chris Matthews brought up the leaders in the Republican Party. According to a transcript from my reader Hoosier Paul, Ford had this to say:

"I think it also speaks to the schism and the tension in their party right now. They can't decide if they want to go the Paul Ryan/Eric Cantor route, which seems to be slightly more substantive and mindful of the fact that the country is looking for answers, and substantive answers at that, or if they want to go the Rush Limbaugh/Palin, and some would argue, even now, the Rick Perry approach, which borders on asinine...."

I can appreciate where Ford is coming from here. In fact, there's probably a few competing factions in the GOP, at least with regards to the future direction of the party. Rush Limbaugh recently told the CPAC audience that the right should "stop assuming that the way to beat [the left] is with better policy ideas," pointing to the Republican contingent that isn't especially concerned with "substantive answers."

What I find noteworthy about Ford's remarks, though, is that he named Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as examples of those who take policy matters seriously. These two, Ford suggested, are the kind of lawmakers who can give the Republican Party some substantive heft.

The problem, of course, is that if Ryan and Cantor are going to be the substantive backbone of the GOP in the coming years, the Republican Party's future is likely to be quite bleak.

Ryan, for example, recently insisted that the Obama administration's proposed budget is "worse than Europe's" budget (as if the continent has just one). He also proposed a truly insane five-year spending freeze to respond to the global economic crisis and described a massive tax cut for the wealthy, dropping the top rate to 25%, as "progressive." In fact, Ryan helped craft the House GOP caucus' budget alternative, which tried to lower the deficit by passing trillions of dollars in additional tax cuts. On taxes, spending, Social Security, Medicare, energy policy, Ryan's plan wasn't just wrong, it was demonstrably ridiculous.

And by all appearances, Cantor is slightly worse, not only endorsing Ryan's approach -- including the belief that the way out of a recession is deep federal spending cuts -- but also taking the lead in opposition economic recovery efforts in February. Best of all, this week, Cantor's office unveiled a Republican "solutions center" for Americans concerned about job losses, the housing crisis, and their savings. Every question led to the same response: tax cuts, spending cuts, or tax cuts and spending cuts.

Ryan and Cantor are prepared to take the lead on crafting "substantive answers" for the Republican Party? Here's a challenge for them: name one.

Steve Benen 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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Well, he did say that they were "slightly" more substantive than "asinine".

Posted by: Name and email address are required. on April 18, 2009 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

Now let's see. My name is Eric Cantor and I'm a Republican Congressman at a time when Democrats are more attractive to the country at large than they've been in generations and I should be happy to receive the endorsement of the former head of the DLC, Harold Ford? I can just imagine my primary opponents use of that little gem.

Posted by: Neuyawker on April 18, 2009 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

What he is implying is that the choices between tweedle-do-nothing at all and tweedle-do-something very badly are the only choices Republicans have available. They are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea with only two equally undesirable alternatives. Ford knew exactly what he was saying.

Posted by: osage on April 18, 2009 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Well, to be fair, he didn't say they were new answers, or good answers. So on a bare semantic level, I suppose they are more "substantive" than the pure "Party of No" crowd. But it's still a pretty ridiculous statement.

I suppose the most charitable interpretation is that if you're looking for substance in the GOP in the future, it's more likely to come out of the Ryan/Cantor faction than the others, because at least they're trying (though it seems more likely that the source of new substance will be "someone who's not on the radar yet.") They're just not very good at it.

Posted by: Redshift on April 18, 2009 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe Ford just wants to get Cantor back on television, he has kind of dropped off the radar screen the last few weeks. I think the last time I heard anything from him was when they introduced the 19 page budget.

Posted by: tomj on April 18, 2009 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

There's no way someone who saw Eric Cantor blame Nancy Pelosi's speech-making for his voting record can say that he offers anything "substantive." He only looks good because the others look so bad.

Posted by: Herb on April 18, 2009 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

It's almost too easy to criticize Republicans and the right wing at this juncture. They're little more than caricatures of talking points that long ago lost any substantive, well-reasoned, fully-informed foundation. But there's also a broader lesson here: good, substantive, thoughtful ideas are truly beginning to drive politics, not the other way around. But the situation is far from ideal. And that should suggest how Democrats and progressives should engage the public discourse. Many of the policy issues that we'll be dealing with over the next two years -- health care and climate/energy in particular -- are too critical for our long-term health and vitality as a country to screw up. And we'll screw up if those policies are merely mealy-mouthed half measures that may provide politicians with talking points, but don't help people or this country. And that should be a warning to Democrats and Progressives. People want real, meaningful solutions whose efficacy is grounded in real, solid thinking.

Posted by: Erik S.G. on April 18, 2009 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

And, to nitpick, Mr Ford, please use "sism" instead of "skisim", next time.

However, when Obama was running the Presidency, it appears that many ascribed their personal feelings to him. So many thought he believed as they. So, with more troops going to Afghanistan, the withdrawal from Iraq still murky, the installment of Summers and Geithner to make sure their banking and Wall Street buddies remain well-heeled, and the refusal to bring criminal charges against the Shrubites, I wonder if Hillary had prevailed and became our President, how many progressives would be crying out "If only Obama had been elected". So, if we wonder about the fall back of the RepuGs, what is the fallback for the progressives?

Posted by: berttheclock on April 18, 2009 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

The problem for the Republicans, even those who under other conditions might be competent policy planners, it that to get elected they have to speak only to the alliance of angry crazies who are their base. Then, once elected, those crazies will remove them if their policy decisions do not agree with those of the crazies.

The Republicans we see in Congress are simply the Darwinian survivors in achieving election to represent the crazies. But Ford himself comes from a similar political environment in Tennessee and has been one of the more successful survivors. He apparently recognizes who to model on the survive, politically, in the land of the allied crazies.

The conservative movement has spent decades now trying to stretch the political labels Democrats and Republican more closely represent the two different culture groups in the American political culture, and the current failure of the Republican "brand" or "label" is the direct outcome of catering to the extremist crowd.

The conservatives really believe that they can convert the American political culture to one that matches their crazy fantasies, be they economic, religious or government organization. But the existing structures have been put into place as those which worked over the long run, and the conservatives are refusing to recognize that their strange, limited ideologies are no match for social, economics and political reality. But they can still talk a good fight. And it doesn't hurt to have control of major elements of the media to transmit that talk to the masses. But reality in the long run is still coming back to bite them, and the current conservative politicians in Washington are caught in a nasty trap. Conservatism in most of its current (extremist) flavors simply does not work, so those who are elected as the purist of the pure conservatives are going to have to go.

Just don't expect them to go quietly.

We all know this here, but it doesn't hurt to restate it on occasion. Restating the obvious is one of the political strengths of conservatism.

Posted by: Rick B on April 18, 2009 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

When a car is headed for a cliff the right thing to do is slam on the brakes. Sorry if that's not "substantive" enough for liberals.

Posted by: Al on April 18, 2009 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Hah! He nitpicks about the pronunciation of "schism" and then, types became instead of had become.

Posted by: paulfromportland on April 18, 2009 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Harold Ford's DLC goggles were on pretty tight, to view those 2 doofs as having presented substantive ideas. DLC should be shut down!

Posted by: Styve on April 18, 2009 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

DLC should be shut down!

It has been, only no one has notified the DLC yet.

Posted by: Disputo on April 18, 2009 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Harold Ford has had "goggle" problems in the past. It took FiredogLake and TPM to persuade Ford to back away from Shrub's privatization of social security in '05.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 18, 2009 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Neither Cantor nor Ryan is in any way substantive. The same goes for Ford. It would be great if all three would just fade away.

Posted by: HaroldinBuffalo on April 18, 2009 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

The increasing schism between the affluent probusiness right wingers and the family values crowd is interesting. It's about time. All the family values people ever got out of the unholy alliance was a lot of lip service and the right to own assault weapons. Meanwhile the probusiness crowd won the right to pillage the economy and run the country into the ditch.

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on April 18, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Note to Harold Ford: If you're in polite company and you just have to patronize, take a page from Paul Begala and call them high functioning morons.

Posted by: Danp on April 18, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

And, to nitpick, Mr Ford, please use "sism" instead of "skisim", next time.


Are you under the impression that one is "correct" and the other is "incorrect"?

If so, you might want to check a dictionary.

Posted by: blah on April 18, 2009 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Harold Ford always had a bit of the DINO about him, and it's becoming plainer by the day that he's auditioning for a hosting job on MSNBC by adopting the typical MSM attitude that there's equivalence in the "arguments" the ReThugs and the Dems are making.

The ReThuglican Party still has new clothes as far as the MSM is concerned, even tho the public obviously saw their little dicks in the 2008 elections.

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on April 18, 2009 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

The Republicans need no substantive answers. It should be obvious to everyone by now that the GOP has bet the ranch on the failure of Obama's economic policies. If Obama succeeds, the Republicans are doomed for a long time, and they know it. Thus we see everything from obstruction of appointees to threats of secession. On the other hand, if Obama's policies fail, the same things that worked for Richard Nixon and George Wallace in 1968 will work for whoever the GOP nominates in 2012.

I fear that the Democrats are at the same point now as they were in the mid-60's, a bit overconfident and starting to let their guard down. All it takes is one riot, one foreign policy crisis, and the Republicans are back in the game.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on April 18, 2009 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Why is it that Cantor can never completely close his mouth ? (Actually and metaphorically).

Posted by: Polaris on April 18, 2009 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

@dr sardonicus

so true, so true

very sad, but this economy almost certainly won't be roses in 3 years. Perhaps that's why we see GOPers tripping over themselves in the race to win the most crazy opposition award.
In the GOP mind, they don't 'need' substantive answers, they only need and opening.

Posted by: tempered optimism on April 18, 2009 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

steve benen: In fact, Ryan helped craft the House GOP caucus' budget alternative, which tried to lower the deficit by passing trillions of dollars in additional tax cuts.

How large will the deficit be in the GOP budget alternative?

"A lot. Let's put it that way."

- GOP Rep. Paul Ryan (WI) 3/28/09

Posted by: mr. irony on April 18, 2009 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Steve: "Ryan and Cantor are prepared to take the lead on crafting "substantive answers" for the Republican Party? Here's a challenge for them: name one."

tax cuts...even better: two tax cuts.... even even better tax cuts for the top two% or just the top two taxpayers......and ponies.....

Posted by: dj spellchecka on April 18, 2009 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

(though it seems more likely that the source of new substance will be "someone who's not on the radar yet.") Redshift

For the GOP, that usually means a 'brain' that can come up with the next great ponzi scheme.

Posted by: oh well on April 18, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Just because we disagree with his ideas doesn't mean they weren't substantive. You all need to realize Ryan and Cantor come from a different background and have a different set of ideas on how the economy works, and to them a spending freeze is the right solution. In order to be seen as reasonable, we have to take the other side's ideas seriously and have a dialog going on.

Posted by: Alex on April 18, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Remember "pet rocks"? Pet rocks consisted of...well, a rock with a name that came in a fancy box. Like it or not, it consisted of physical material---rock---and was therefore substantive.

Limbaugh, et al are various layers of noxious gas; not much in the way of physical substance at all, therefore non-substantive.

Besides---my pet rock is 33 years old (you really do not want to know what that is in pet rock years), and is still more intelligent than Rush Limbaugh....

Posted by: S. Waybright on April 18, 2009 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Cantor is running for Minority Leader so hard you can hardly see his legs. He wants to be Speaker. He sees himself as the New Newt, but with better looks.

There are Republicans I can stand to look at, but he's not one of them. His pomposity oozes from his pores.

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on April 18, 2009 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Not substantive: Fags! Communists! Negroes! Hippies!
Substantive: Tax cuts! More tax cuts! Tax cuts!

I think what´s going on is that ANY reference to policy, no matter how stupid, inane, inappropriate or repetitive, is automatically relatively substantive... just because it is referring to policy.

Posted by: inkadu on April 18, 2009 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

The problem I see with Republican and "substantive" is this.

Gingrich began the slide into the ridiculous and Delay and Rove perfected and finished the brand off. Together with the unholy alliance of the "Christian" "right", these assholes guaranteed no self respecting intellectual would touch Republican politics.

They put all their "permanent majority" cards into the crazy basket. Oh, well, better luck next time. Until then, they'll have to make do with the space cadet better known as Eric Cantor and the quintessential starchy WASP better known as John Boehner.

Oops, I almost forgot to add "Mr. beyond cutting edge" to their list of "assets".

Posted by: oh well on April 18, 2009 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

You have to redefine "substantive" when talking about Republicans. "Substantive," to Democrats, means that you have a plan to stimulate the economy, a plan to reduce dependence on foreign oil, and a plan to reform health insurance to guarantee access and affordability. "Substantive," in Republican terms, means you have called for tax cuts and a spending freeze, and you oppose regulation and abortion. That is "substance" if you are a Republican today. Any truly substantive plan to revive the economy necessarily involves some type of regulation and spending, both of which are heresy to Republicans, and any health care plan based on "free market" principles ultimately results in fewer people having insurance. The Republicans' own ideology prevents them from offering any real "substantive" solutions.

Posted by: frontstreet on April 18, 2009 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

It's all relative. Ryan and Cantor are substantive when viewed in contrast to Limbaugh, Palin and Perry.

A few years ago Lewis Black had a comedy bit where he called the Democrats the party of no ideas, and the Republicans the party of bad ideas. Now the GOP houses both of these sects.

Posted by: bucky on April 18, 2009 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

inkadu is correct. And i'm no fan of Ford, but maybe another angle to consider in this is how far the Republican party is still moving to the right since Obama got elected. Compared to the Limbaugh/Hannity/Beck wing, Cantor comes across as fairly moderate... comparatively.

What are the loudest voices on the right talking about now: Tea Parties, Fascism, Government persecution of the Right, Godlessness, Gays and Guns. Putting aside Cantors completely asinine, disingenuous arguments, what he's still arguing about is the stimulus, budgets and taxes. Substantive issues albeit not very substantive arguments from Cantor. And after all, that gives us an opportunity to argue back on the merits of the real issues.

The last few weeks have been mostly about cooked up conspiracy theories and paranoia. And the left has had very little to say because well, what are you going to say? Which is smart. We don't want to legitimize the crazies.

But therein lies the rub. Real issues haven't been front and center lately. Tea parties are. So we need Cantor back. He's an idiot and an easy punching bag. Having him be the voice of the Republican party is the political equivalent of fish in a barrel.

Posted by: KP on April 18, 2009 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Goldwater's spinning in his grave like a top.

But he's been doing that since Reagan.

Goldwater would call all of these guys WING NUTS.

Posted by: Glen on April 18, 2009 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

That's the problem with most party members in congress...they are in congress so they must be substantive or legitimate.

There are no republicans capable of doing anything more than obstruct progress for personal gain. Everything they propose is detrimental and destructive to our economy and our democracy...and that includes their dem supporters.

They are responsible for so much damage and have virtually flushed the USA down the tubes bribing the media with lucrative salaries and business to confuse and debilitate the populace into silent acceptance of their agenda. Now they are being exposed and even these "tea bagging" events are backfiring as they attempt to demonize Obama and the dems. We are seeing through them because we have to as they all but destroyed our nation.

Now we must focus on ridding ourselves of the republicans in the dem party who are aiding in their obstructionism to prevent regulating the wealthy. These are the economic royalists who think they own America and its people.

Posted by: bjobotts on April 18, 2009 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

"...though it seems more likely that the source of new substance will be "someone who's not on the radar yet.") ..."
Posted by: Redshift on April 18, 2009 at 12:21 PM |

They are looking for a Hitler but feel they don't have enough of the brownshirt people yet to support him...therefore they give them Beck to prepare the way.

Fox, Hannity, Rush, Backmann, the list is huge...they are cultivating through fear and ignorance the filled with hate authoritarian followers, who work on the logic of Bybee like they deserve what ever we do to them if it helps America. For those who claim "if I'd lived then and I knew in advance what Hitler would do I would have killed him"... well there's a line up starting with Beck who are advocating a civil war. Millionaires convincing the poor and middle class they are just like them and using them to protect their profiteering, wealth and greed. "Kill Liberals" as many tea baggers screamed but couldn't even define the term much less any policies liberals back but instead demonizing them for things that have nothing to do with Liberals. Forgetting that democracy itself is a liberal notion. Believing debunked memes like welfare queens and supporting illegal immigrants etc as cause to support the millionaires manipulating them. Too ignorant to know that Reagan was one of the worst presidents ever...expanding government, increasing taxes on the middle class while cutting them for the wealthy who still paid a much higher rate than Obama suggests.

The know nothings who buy condemnation wherever they find it, are now being rallied to riot for "perceived" notions of things that are not even happening, whose anger is being roused and hate targets being demonized by hate radio/TV media darlings. Beck is one of THE most obviously insane people I've ever seen and he's being taken seriously as if he's somehow legitimate and reasonable...and they've given him a national voice instead of a straight jacket. Thank God they are a minority.

Posted by: bjobotts on April 18, 2009 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

"Ryan's plan wasn't just wrong, it was demonstrably ridiculous."

in other words, "objectively pro-stupid"

Posted by: Snarki, child of Loki on April 18, 2009 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

Former Rep. and DLC Chair Harold Ford, by naming "Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as examples of those who take policy matters seriously" is signaling that these two Republicans are the ones that the Democratic Party leadership should be talking to and compromising with, even though these two Republicans, as you noted, are about as extreme as a conservative can get.

But when you also noted that Harold Ford was DLC chair, I knew that he isn't really a Democrat, but one of those foul and deceitful Blue Dog DINO Democrats, who are more conservative Republican than liberal Democrat (while claiming to be "centrist"), one of those who consistently sides with the most extreme elements of the Republican Party and the most corrupt in corporate America, undermining the very fabric of our liberal democracy in the process.

Posted by: The Oracle on April 18, 2009 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

The final impression of this devolution of the GOP is that it is good in a democracy that a party is representing the concerns of the guys in the back row of the classroom who spend their time drawing on their knuckles and making noises with their armpits.

Posted by: KazooGuy on April 18, 2009 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

There is little hope for the Republicans, and the alternative leaves little hope for the country.

Posted by: Luther on April 20, 2009 at 2:51 AM | PERMALINK



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