Archive for the ‘Arguments’ Category

Newt Gingrich “knows better”

September 23, 2010

Mr. Gingrich seems to be the only man in politics who can say crazy things repeatedly without being written off as crazy, and ignored. The former Speaker of the House somehow earned a carte blanche in outrageous statements.

No matter what Newt Gingrich says, the following phrase is included in the ensuing discussion (Gingrich usually starts something):

“He knows better.”

President Clinton on Meet the Press (September 19):

That’s just what he does when he’s running. He’s out there playing politics, and it’s his shtick. He knows better. He’s a smart man.

A smart man playing politics. Gingrich certainly knows what to say (plus when and how) to push the right buttons — facts and common sense be damned. Gingrich’s skill is that he knows how to awaken dark and paranoid sentiments within certain segments of the electorate.

And that seems to be okay for politicians, since it’s all a part of the “game”.

While some are able to see the political calculations and motives driving Gingrich’s actions (me! coverage! GOP surge! – in that order), others aren’t. And those who take Gingrich at his word are strengthening his hand. The media should know when it’s being played, and leave Gingrich alone.

I finally get it now, Obama’s anti-colonial heritage is driving his support of the victory mosque. Thanks for clearing that up for me Mr. Gingrich.

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Base Values and the Midterms

September 13, 2010

WITH LABOR DAY BEHIND US and the 2010 campaigns entering their last phase I thought it’d be interesting to turn the clock back to the middle of May and a debate about the importance of ideological purity and base values in the Summer issue of U.S. News & World Report.

Robert Schlesinger, editing the piece “Two Takes”, introduced the issue in the following terms:

In the run-up to the November elections, Republicans and Democrats alike are dealing with internal fights about the path to victory. At issue is ideological purity. Some strategists argue that emphasizing core values will lead to wins, while others say that the parties need new thinking to keep them relevant. Should parties emphasize base values?

Arguing that “clear principles win elections”: Chris Chocola (former Indiana Republican Rep., president of the Club for Growth—a limited-government, free-enterprise political advocacy group).

Arguing that “pure parties are loosing parties”: Edward Gresser (president of the Democratic Leadership Council—which promotes centrist, pragmatic policy solutions).

I’ll start with Mr. Chocola.

According to Chocola, “the political choice between ideological purity and ‘big tent’ coalition building is inherently false. Success requires both. … A political party can’t build a big tent without it being anchored to clear ideological principles.” Arguing that “Republicans and Democrats represent and advocate for two very different worldviews” at their best, Chocola writes that for a party to succeed, it “must persuade voters to reject the other party’s worldview and support its own. But this is only possible if the party actually has a worldview.”

Chocola then draws the following picture of Republicans’ worldview:

For Republicans, that worldview was summed up by Ronald Reagan more than 20 years ago. We should emphasize the things that unite us and make these the only “litmus test” of what constitutes a Republican: our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth policies, tax reduction, sound national defense, and maximum individual liberty.

This litmus test wasn’t a call to purity or extremism—just the opposite. Reagan was endorsing the broadest and most inclusive definition of a Republican imaginable. If a Republican didn’t believe in these basic things, why would he call himself a Republican anyway?

With this rosy and including image in mind, Chocola draws a different picture of Democrats’ worldview:

Democrats have a corresponding set of bedrock principles, too, like abortion rights and income redistribution.

He then adds the following:

If Republicans suddenly advocated massive tax hikes on small businesses, or Democrats suddenly called for overturning Roe v. Wade, they would not be seen as inclusive, but unprincipled. If they can cave on that, what won’t they cave on? As Reagan noted, there are other issues on which ‘we can disagree among ourselves as Republicans and tolerate the disagreement.’ Barack Obama could say the same of the Democrats. Governing requires compromise, but elevating compromise itself to a principle is like building a house on sand.

What should Republicans do?

Republican politicians in particular must insist on certain principles—especially economic freedom and limited government.

To win again, the GOP cannot merely present itself as a copy of the Democrats. Republicans must draw clear distinctions between the Democrats’ principles and their own. That’s what they have been doing for more than a year now, and that’s why Republicans are more energized than they have been since 1994.

“Coicidentally”: In 1994, just like in 2010, a Democratic president is in the middle of his first term. With that in mind, back to Chocola’s concluding remarks:

For the first time in years, the GOP is returning to its roots and giving voters a reason to vote Republican again. And it is learning an old political lesson: Fight for your principles, and you get a majority, too; fight just for the majority, and you get neither.

Before I move on to Mr. Gresser’s piece, I feel a strong need to address Chocola’s framing of the abortion issue.

While talking about Reagan, conservatism and litmus tests, Chocola manages to frame Democrats as the only party with bedrock principles on the abortion issue—as if the GOP’s opposition to abortion isn’t one of their key principles. Reagan authored a book on the issue. Reagan started a trend of increased emphasis on the issue among Republican presidential hopefuls. In fact, while on the issue of “litmus tests”: every single Republican presidential nominee has supported the party platforms’ line on abortion since its introduction in 1976. Furthermore, in the same period, 8 of 16 Republican presidential candidates drifted in the direction of the party platform’s stance on abortion upon running for the presidency.

According to Mr. Chocola, President Reagan “was endorsing the broadest and most inclusive definition of a Republican imaginable.” That might be true, but only if you adhere to Chocola’s chery picked sense of reality.

Moving along.

As I mentioned in the introduction, Edward Gresser, the president of the Democratic Leadership Council, argued back in May that “pure parties are losing parties.”

Referencing Chris Chocola’s address at CPAC back in February, Gresser writes that Chocola “mixed a suggestion of bright prospects for Republicans this fall with an attack on the GOP of last fall and blamed the party’s 2006 and 2008 defeats not on the record of conservatives in government at the time but on a supposed drift away from conservatism. His solution was a purified party.”

It sounds awfully familiar. Back in 1982, Democrats were unhappy with an energetic president but gaining polling in a period of high unemployment. Lots of Democrats believed then, as many Republicans seem to now, that if we preached the true faith more often, repeated it more loudly, and denounced the president more angrily, we’d restore our fortunes. But the Democratic problem wasn’t lack of ideological purity. It was too much ideology and too few new ideas.

In 2010, Gresser argues that ideological purity “isn’t the solution to the GOP’s problems”, and that the root of their problems is “in the record conservatives built in power.” According to Gresser, “a less purified party, more open to internal dissent, would have done better” in 2006 and 2008.

Republicans shoud be frankly admitting the problem and starting a rethink. Instead, they’re shutting down debate and repeating mistakes we made a generation ago. Bad move. Republican’s don’t need ideological purity. They need self-criticism and new thinking. It’s a bit painful, but they’ll be better off. Believe me. We’ve been there.

This debate seemed pertinent back in May. And although it may seem outdated as we enter the middle of September, it can be argued that the drumming of base values is in fact an important ingredient in Democrats’ and Republicans’ pitch to voters these days:

Republicans want to extend the “Bush tax cuts.” And Democrats have turned populist, defending tax increases for the rich (a return to the level prior to the “Bush tax cuts”).

When the economy turns sour, politicians start making lemonade. And they’re not experimenting with the recipe.

The “Outside the Mainstream” argument

August 26, 2010

ACCORDING TO THE “OUTSIDE THE MAINSTREAM” ARGUMENT, certain (extreme) views must be disregarded since they (1) aren’t supported by a majority of voters (the numbers might or might not stem from cherry-picked polls), and (2) because they disregard the conventional political wisdom. The framing varies, but the argument is the same: X is too “extreme”, too “radical” or too far “left” or “right” to be taken seriously.

Intriguingly, the argument might prove counterproductive for Democrats (and Republicans) in the current political climate. With certain segments of the electorate high on anti-incumbency sentiments, one might actually contribute to the continued rise of so-called extreme candidates by labeling their ideas and campaign promises as reckless opportunism and crazy talk. If the driving force behind the tea party movement is that the mainstream political movement is out of whack, then it might not be such a good idea to paint tea party candidates as “far outside the mainstream.”

Governor Jennifer Granholm (D-MI) did just that on Meet The Press this Sunday (August 22, 2010) in a debate with former  House majority leader Dick Armey (R-TX) (Freedomworks founder and author of the new book Give Us Liberty:  A Tea Party Manifesto):

MR. GREGORY: One of the arguments that Democrats make about some of the candidates who are supported by the tea party is that they’re, frankly, too extreme for … the mainstream of the Republican Party [and] too extreme for the mainstream of the political country.

REP. ARMEY: Well, first of all, each one of these candidates [Ken Buck, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul and Mike Lee] won a Republican primary as a Republican candidate with a variety of different stresses on different issues. I am not going to take the Democrat (sic) Party’s characterization of a Republican Party candidate’s position on any issue as the gospel truth. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but politicians say insincere things; and, frankly, I don’t quite listen to the Democrats on the candidates. But the voters paid attention to the candidates and made their choice. Now, the Democrats … have a guy down in South Carolina who wins the primary and, and is then convicted of a felony. They ought to concern themselves with, “What is the quality of our candidates, and can we meet the challenge of trying to race against these candidates” who are going to beat their person in the fall.

MR. GREGORY: Governor, is this an example of what they’ve called a mainstream political movement, some of these candidates and their views?

GOV. GRANHOLM: Well, you know, no. I think it’s far outside the mainstream…

Time will show.

Mr. Armey’s response was spot on: If politicians such as Ken Buck, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul and Mike Lee are indeed “outside the mainstream”, then voters will say so in November. And if they don’t, then it is in fact the proponents of the “outside the mainstream” argument who are out of touch and unable to connect with the electorate.


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