The presidential prospects of Senator Thune

September 30, 2010

Stephen F. Hayes’ (Weekly Standard)  profile of South Dakota Senator John Thune (R) created a lot of buzz about the prospects of Mr. Thune running for president earlier this week.

In a follow-up to the article, Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza called John Thune “the Republican Obama”, while Slate’s Dave Weigel responded with a short post titled No, no, no. John Thune is not the Republican Obama.

I’ve extracted some pro’s and con’s for a Thune for President campaign from Hayes’ profile:

Pro’s:

  • “exceptionally skilled retail politician who can communicate a kind of midwestern, common sense conservatism that is ascendant in reaction to liberal profligacy”
  • “he’s cultivated the nationwide donor base that gave him $14.5 million to defeat Tom Daschle in 2004.”
  • “South Dakota borders Iowa.”
  • “he’s good on television.”
  • “Last year, National Journal ranked him as the 6th most conservative member of the Senate.”
  • “He is better than most at articulating the case for a return to limited government. And Thune makes that case in a common-sense way that draws people in rather than sending them running.”

And:

  • “he’s a devout Christian who can quote Scripture without seeming to proselytize.“

“Thune attended Biola University, a small Baptist College [correction: a private Christian University] in Los Angeles, following his older siblings. In a testimonial on the school’s website, Thune says: “I valued the biblical foundation I got at Biola. I was able to take classes that strengthened my faith and helped me to better understand what I believe and how to, in a practical way, apply my faith in real-world situations. I think God is looking for people who can apply their faith in a very relevant way to their profession. My faith is integral to the decisions I make and the way I conduct myself in public life.” 

Con’s:

  • “He has virtually no national profile.”
  • “He worked briefly as a lobbyist.”
  • “He voted for TARP.”
  • “He is a defender of earmarks.”
  • “He would be running against Washington from Washington.”

With that said, what did Chris Cillizza take away from the profile? He focused on the following quote:

“In an age in which presidential campaigns are driven by image, Thune’s looks are highly relevant. He does look like a president.”

Thune, according to Cillizza, mirrors “Obama’s skill set: charismatic and handsome but with a fundamentally different approach to government’s role in peoples’ lives.”

Who knew Obama’s charisma and looks were such important parts of his “skill set”?

Thune, like Romney, is “stylistically similar to Obama” according to Cillizza. “Someone with the bearing and look (don’t underestimate how important it is to look “presidential”) to credibly stand with Obama on a debate stage. The alternative, of course, is to nominate the anti-Obama — someone who in resume, approach and look draws a purposeful contrast with the President. Leading that group would be the likes of Govs. Mitch Daniels (Ind.) and Haley Barbour (Miss.) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin also probably would be included in that group. (Daniels is also short and balding — providing a visual contrast with Obama.)”

Dave Weigel’s reaction:

“Is it important to ‘look presidential’? …  It is far, far, far more important to be able to prove to the base that you were on their side on the issue they care about most.”

Hayes’ profile of  Thune is an interesting read, while Cillizza’s comment is a superficial and unconvincing piece (as Weigel pointed out).

It’ll be interesting to follow Thune in the aftermath of the 2010 midterm elections.

Midterm History (1942-2006)

September 26, 2010

17 midterm elections were held in the period between 1942 and 2006. How did the president’s party do?

Read the rest of this entry »

A Pledge to America … to Limit Abortions

September 23, 2010

The GOP has released its 2010 election manifesto, entitled “A Pledge to America” — a new governing agenda built on the Priorities of Our Nation, the Principles We Stand for & America’s Founding Values. Buzzwords: Priorities. Principles. Values. House Minority Leader John Boehner defended the GOP’s pledge in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, saying it’s “certainly more substantive than what was in the Contract with America 16 years ago.”  

The pledge includes the following passages regarding abortion:  

“We will permanently end taxpayer funding of abortion and codify the Hyde Amendment.”  

“We will establish a government-wide prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion and subsidies for insurance coverage that includes abortion, this includes enacting into law what is known as the Hyde Amendment.”  

“We will also enact into law conscience protections for health care providers, including doctors, nurses, and hospitals.Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to using tax dollars to pay for abortion, and the executive order issued by President Obama in conjunction with congressional passage of the health care law is inadequate to ensure taxpayer funds are not used in this manner.”  

There you have it.

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.

Johan Galtung on President Obama

September 20, 2010

For those of you who missed it, Johan Galtung voiced his discontent with President Obama in an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman last week (September 16).  Galtung described Obama as a man with “megalomaniac” tendencies who hasn’t kept any of his campaign promises and who doesn’t deserve the support of those who stomped for him in 2008.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of President Obama?

JOHAN GALTUNG: I have never believed in him. Never. I have lots of editorials and things written in the election year. I think that I sense something slightly megalomaniac in him, which is disturbing. The idea of being able to unite all of the US, just as he unites skin colors and faiths and origins in his body, and for that reason, leaning over backwards to negotiate with the Republicans and taking on Republican points, whereupon the Republicans vote no. Now, maybe the Republicans will now change from being a “no” party to some couple of “maybe” or “yeses,” maybe. But in the meantime, he has lost the support of the people who are voting for him. If I had been working like mad in 2008 to get him elected, because of some beauties in his rhetoric, and had experienced what I have experienced now, I would not work for the midterm elections.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think he has gone back on, in terms of his promises?

JOHAN GALTUNG: Practically speaking, everything. Guantánamo is still there. Rendition is still there. There is the saying that no torture should take place; I haven’t seen the mechanism to ensure that that’s the case. The withdrawal from Iraq, with 50,000 remaining. Stepping up, escalating the war in Afghanistan. And as we know, whatever withdraws from Iraq essentially goes to Afghanistan instead.

I think it’s very contrary to the kind of thing that he was exuding, including the nuclear point. What kind of thing is this, to get rid of old-fashioned weapons with the Russians and then arguing for $180 billion to modernize the nukes—$100 billion for the weapons carriers, $80 billion for new warheads? What kind of nuclear-free world is this? He should have had the decency, when Norway made the mistake of giving him the Nobel Peace Prize, of saying, “I graciously, gratefully decline. I haven’t earned it yet. Let’s come back when possibly I have earned it.” He didn’t say that, and dispensed with the prize money in a disgraceful way.

AMY GOODMAN: How?

JOHAN GALTUNG: To all kinds of irrelevant organizations. He didn’t even give it to US peace organizations. Let me just mention one: the American Friends Service Committee, which is a fantastic organization doing marvelous work all over the world. Could have given the whole thing to them.

You’ll notice that Galtung’s argument evolves around foreign policy while at the same time criticizing Obama for “leaning over backwards” to Republicans. This assertion, however, is based on Obama’s handling of domestic matters (such as health care reform). Though Galtung’s discontent with Obama might be warranted, he tends to interpret everything political through a lens of foreign policy. By stating that those who worked “like mad” for Obama in 2008 shouldn’t work for him in 2010 — based on the points mentioned by Galtung — Galtung takes it for granted that these voters supported Obama because of some “beauties in his rhetoric” on matters of foreign policy, and that his record on these issues disqualify him from their continued support (note to Galtung: Obama isn’t on the ballot, and many Democrats aren’t exactly highlighting their ties to Obama on the campaign trail).

Democratic Blues

September 13, 2010

Midterm history for first-term presidents. As Meet the Press-host David Gregory put it on Sunday:

“It’s mostly pretty bleak for a president in power.”

According to Nate Silver’s (Five Thirty Eight) latest House forecast (September 9), Democrats will loose more seats in November than the party in power did in 1978 and 1982 combined, but less than the Democrats did in 1994: 45,3 seats.

Republicans have a 2/3 chance of gaining a majority in the House come November.

Odds are Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) will be the new Speaker of the House. But it’s a long time between now and November, and 99 House seats are still in play.

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.


%d bloggers like this: