Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 1, 2010

QUOTE OF THE DAY.... The New York Times Magazine will publish a big feature on Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) this weekend, which I suspect will spark some interesting discussion. For now, let's take note of the quote that's likely to get the most attention.

"Everything I'm doing now in terms of talking about climate, talking about immigration, talking about Gitmo is completely opposite of where the Tea Party movement's at," Graham said.... On four occasions, Graham met with Tea Party groups. The first, in his Senate office, was "very, very contentious," he recalled. During a later meeting, in Charleston, Graham said he challenged them: " 'What do you want to do? You take back your country -- and do what with it?' ... Everybody went from being kind of hostile to just dead silent."

In a previous conversation, Graham told me: "The problem with the Tea Party, I think it's just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out." Now he said, in a tone of casual lament: "We don't have a lot of Reagan-type leaders in our party. Remember Ronald Reagan Democrats? I want a Republican that can attract Democrats." Chortling, he added, "Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today."

As a matter of policy, I don't agree with Graham about much of anything, but all of these observations are entirely sound. The reason I put "movement" in quotes every time I write about the Tea Partiers is that it's a contingent with no clear agenda, no leadership, no internal structure, and no meaningful connection to reality. Its passionate members, while probably well meaning, appear to have no idea what they're talking about. Genuine political movements -- civil rights, women's suffrage, labor unions -- have, as Graham put it, a "coherent vision." The Tea Party has Hitler signs and a cable news network, but that's not much of a substitute.

Indeed, there's already some evidence the "movement" may be "in danger of breaking apart before it ever really comes together."

But Graham's remarks, while defensible, are likely to cause all manner of trouble for him. He's already been condemned by right-wing South Carolinians, and that was just for talking to Democrats about possible compromises on public policy. For Graham to trash the confused Tea Party crowd -- to the New York Times, no less -- will likely make his life in Republican politics considerably more difficult.

As for Graham's observation that Reagan "would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today," it's hard to overstate how true this is. I'm reminded of something Rachel Maddow told viewers last week:

"He signed a bill that gave amnesty to undocumented immigrants. He grew the size of the federal government and the budget, added a whole new cabinet level agency and added tens of thousands of government workers to the federal payroll.

"He tripled the deficit. He bailed out and expanded social security with a big fat tax increase. He raised corporate taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars. He raised taxes on gasoline.

"He, in fact, signed into law the largest tax increase in history. He supported federal handgun controls. He called for a world without nuclear weapons.

"He was Ronald Reagan."

It's an ongoing area of interest for me, so I'm glad Graham brought it up. Indeed, in addition to Rachel's observations, I'd also note that as governor, Reagan increased spending, raised taxes, helped create the nation's first state-based emissions standards, signed an abortion-rights bill, and expanded the nation's largest state-based Medicaid program (socialized medicine).

Then, as president, Reagan raised taxes in seven out of the eight years in office, approved "amnesty" for immigrants who entered the country illegally, and met with our most hated enemy without preconditions.

Reagan "would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today"? Reagan would have a hard time not getting laughed off the Republican stage today.

Steve Benen 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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All worthwhile points, but remember that on top of all that, Reagan delivered to the real constituency of the GOP. Union busting - particularly firing workers during organizing drives - reach a peak under Reagan that had never been seen before, nor (thankfully) since. And Reagan was very consistent in hating on liberals and blaming poor people for anything that went wrong. So I think he could manage to hold his own in today's GOP, provided he accentuated the conservative.

Posted by: Rich C on July 1, 2010 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Good post, Steve. But it assumes governance matters at all. Hatred will put the Rs in power, and the US will slide back into recession, with more talk from Bachman and Angle and the like of "2nd amendment solutions."

I see no signs of hope.

Posted by: Can Dems Play the Game? on July 1, 2010 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Reagan was no saint. Aside from the union-busting, he also popularized the anti-intellectualism that marks the wingnut right and gave us Sarah Palin. He started the country down the road to the shithole we are in now, what with climate denialism, evolution denialism, and apologetics for slavery, not to mention the rise of today's government by plutocratic cronies. I loathed him when he was alive, and I still loathe him today.

Posted by: jimBOB on July 1, 2010 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget how Reagan "cut and ran" from Lebanon after the Marine barracks bombing.

Posted by: Common Knowledge on July 1, 2010 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Can Dems....yes things are grim these days (and Ben Nelson certainly isn't helping), but "no signs of hope?" I hardly think so.

Polls are slowly skinching back in the Dems favor in a number of key Senate and House races, the Tea Party movement is becoming increasingly fragmented and fractious, and the GOP (or what is left of it) seems hell bent on nominating candidates with views more and more outside the mainstream, while itself pursuing policy positions (if you can call them that) designed to destroy hopes of party recovery...not least of them trying to gut the recently passed healthcare reform bill and siding totally with opposition to Wall Street reforms.

Look at it....the GOP today has alienated Hispanics, African Americans, women, youth, and independents. That's a pretty shaky platform from which to launch a drive to restoration of power.

And the Democrats have only begun to gear up their campaign themes...which hopefully are beginning to emerge already....you want to vote GOP....here's what you are going to get....a party committed to the interests of big business, big oil, big banks, and repeal of fiscal and health care reforms.

Fire away!

Posted by: dweb on July 1, 2010 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

All the points about Reagan are true, but I suspect Graham's point that his record would not have be enough to establish his "conservative" bona fides today is spot on. Signing the abortion law in CA would be disqualifying by itself.

I have to think Lindsey Graham understands that his chances of being renominated in SC when his term ends are close to nil. I doubt the freedom that implies will make him a better Senator by my standards, but he's certainly doesn't need to worry about the electoral impact of his actions any more.

Posted by: drkrick on July 1, 2010 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Graham said:

The problem with the Tea Party, I think it's just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out.

So they don't have a coherent vision for governing. Doesn't seem to have hurt the Republicans much.

Posted by: David Bailey on July 1, 2010 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Don't say "no leadership" Steve, since that feeds the idea the teaparty movement is "grass roots." But we know that Dick Armey's Freedom Works was a big instigator, and likely some of the other dextroplutocracy crowd. Sure, the superficial apparent leadership is ambiguous/diffuse/MIA, but the strings-pullers aren't so diffuse. Please say more about who does lead them, and less harping on their superficially leaderless appearances (which is more designed to deceive than any definitive insight.)

Posted by: Neil B on July 1, 2010 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Also don't forget, Reagan signed the Montreal Protocol. This was for the effort to save the Ozone Layer and it banned substances that would deplete the Ozone Layer. That included CFCs found in aerosol sprays. Of course, you had big business who opposed this in the late 70s before it became popular in the 80's. Dupont called it ridiculous or something similar to what we hear the GOBP screaming today. If Reagan were president today with today's GOBP, it never would've been done.

Posted by: mmw on July 1, 2010 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Everything I'm doing now in terms of talking about climate, talking about immigration, talking about Gitmo is completely opposite of where the Tea Party movement's at," Graham said.

I hope the writer called him out on this, since right now he's doing nothing about climate change, and probably not doing anything about immigration or Gitmo either.

Seems that his inaction in these areas would match up quite well with what the Teabaggers want.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on July 1, 2010 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Neil B - I think the difference between having leadership and being directed is significant in a fake grassroots "movement." Dick Armey can use the TP'ers for his own nefarious purposes (much like Republicans have long used various base groups like the religious right), but he can't lead them in the way that, say, Howard Dean led DFA. First, it would immediately betray the astroturf nature of the group (since unlike Dean, Armey is a consummate GOP insider), and it would reveal that his purposes in promoting them have little to do with what members believe they're fighting for.

They are indeed leaderless as a political movement in that they have no "leaders" who are going to be catapulted into power. Having users and manipulators is not the same as having leaders.

Posted by: Redshift on July 1, 2010 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

I knew Reagan. And you, Lindseed, are no Reagan...

By the way, do you think if we ackowledged that they won the Reagan Revolution, they'd end the occupation, and go the fuck home, and leave us to try to mend what's left?
Yeah, me neither...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on July 1, 2010 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Oh but the do have a clear agenda Steve. Oppose whatever the Black guy is for.

Posted by: woody45 on July 1, 2010 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Chortling, he added, "Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today."

The first honest statement that's ever come out of Lindsey Graham's mouth.

Posted by: electrolite on July 1, 2010 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Reagan still honored the Republican first commandment: "Give the rich a break".

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on July 1, 2010 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Something tells me that New York Times Magazine's big feature on Chuckleberry will not include close examination of his role as Lucy to the Democrats' football.

To do so would be unserious and may negatively affect future access.

Posted by: terraformer on July 1, 2010 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Of course they "have an agenda." Their agenda is making Democrats lose elections, because they are almost entirely Republicans.

Jeez, this isn't really hard. Rush Limbaugh said on day, what, six of the Obama administration what the Tea party agenda was? They want the government to fail. Because the government is Democrats.

Posted by: August J. Pollak on July 1, 2010 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

A sad reflection on the GOP - Lindsay Graham used to be considered one of the more extreme figures in the GOP caucus; now he's their most sane. Not that that's saying much.

Posted by: Stetson Kennedy on July 1, 2010 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Reagan would just start acting like John McCain becoming another hypocritical phony playing to the media darlings (Reagan: "I hae meant a lot of rreporters in my life but YOU are really something special". Reporter: "(smiling and batting their eyes) "Really" )The media would turn on their heads to swoon on his every word. It isn't only the republicans that have become degraded but the media that supports them as well.

Posted by: bjobotts on July 1, 2010 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Graham will almost certainly be primaried when he runs again, 2012 I believe Opponents are already being mentioned in the news here and fund raising under way. The man who helped try to inpeach Clinton for a blow job is now considered as a RINO here in SC by the batshit crazy republicans.
One encouraging thing is that Haley appears not to be a shoo-in for gov.Many here are opposing her and that includes republicans because they see her as simply 4 more years of Sanford who like dubwa is now considered as a an incompetent who did little but argue with his legislature in pushing his Libitarianism. The stae of SC is in much worse shape now than it was when Sanford came in. He has done to SC what Bush did to the country.

Posted by: grandpajohn on July 1, 2010 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

And if you can't take Graham's word for it, listen to these two men:

Posted by: BigDaddyRich on July 2, 2010 at 4:33 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, the Tea Partiers have an agenda. They want the black guy out of the White House; then they will have taken back their country!

Posted by: Nikki on July 2, 2010 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK
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