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“Drop These Silly Notions Of False Equivalence”: The Democratic Party Is The Only Home For Centrists

This is a letter to political centrists.

For those of you alarmed that Rep. Eric Cantor was not conservative enough for Republicans in Virginia’s 7th congressional district, I encourage you to read Charles Wheelan’s The Centrist Manifesto. Wheelan, a professor of economics at Dartmouth College, puts to words what we can all sense: Partisan gridlock is becoming more than a nuisance in our lives. It is threatening our economy, our children’s educations, the welfare of the planet, and every other national priority.

Take a read through Wheelan’s “Manifesto.” It’s a short read, published last year after it became clear that President Obama’s re-election would not bring a new age of bipartisanship to Washington. Wheelan calls for the center to step outside of the two major parties and stand up for itself. In noting that the fastest growing bloc of voters is Independents, Wheelan argues that both the Democratic and Republican parties have driven out moderates by standing only for their political bases — and that the only resolution to this is an organized movement of Independents.

Take a read, because Wheelan is wrong.

Wheelan’s vision may have made sense in 2013, but much has changed in the past year. We are now well past the time for quixotic visions of bipartisanship driven by centrists on both sides of the divide. To read “Manifesto” is to recall a time when Americans could reasonably believe that in spite of bitter partisanship in Washington, Congress could transcend the ideological gap to act on immigration reform, universal background checks, and tax reform. To behave, in short, like statesmen.

If we have learned anything from Eric Cantor’s demise, it’s that the Republican Party is no place for pragmatic centrists. It’s not even a place for relentless partisans who may stray from Republican orthodoxy on an issue or two.

So it’s time to just say it out in the open: The resolution to Washington’s dysfunction is a migration of Independents into the Democratic Party, because there is only one side that seems at all interested in welcoming centrists.

We should first note one of the most fundamental rules of political science: Duverger’s Law. This is the observation, made famous by French sociologist Maurice Duverger, that in winner-take-all two-party systems, voters inevitably gravitate toward one of two major parties. This is because voters do not want to waste their vote on a candidate who will not win. Recall how quickly liberal voters snapped back into the Democratic fold after wasting votes on Ralph Nader in 2000; they know Duverger’s Law well.

Given Duverger’s Law, it would follow that any potential “Centrist Party” would run into institutional obstacles not easily surmounted by even the most popular movement. And even those preaching the gospel of bipartisanship, nonpartisanship, and centrism must accept the reality that the current Republican Party is plainly interested in none of that.

This goes for the 501(c)(4) groups like Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us. If you want Congress to move “FWD” on immigration reform, under what circumstance could you expect a GOP-led House to buck the Tea Party and pass a bill that commands broad bipartisan support?

This also goes for moderate voters, whom Wheelan notes comprised 41 percent of the electorate in 2012.

Wheelan correctly observes that any centrist party should not simply meet both sides halfway on each issue, but rather take the best ideas from both sides. A rational observer, for example, would not conclude that climate change is “probably” happening because Democrats are sure it is, and Republicans are sure it’s not.

He also correctly notes that many Democrats have strayed from sensible policies in favor of myopic political interests. But it simply cannot be said that there is no home for centrists in the Democratic Party.

In fact, several prominent Democrats — including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) — are on record as supporting school choice. Congress passed free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama in 2011 with large numbers of Democratic votes, and President Obama signed them into law. The Obama administration and many of its congressional allies have supported lowering the corporate income tax from 35 percent to 28 percent.

In other words, Democrats often support centrist policies without reprisal. Such apostasy would never be tolerated in the GOP.

Wheelan examines the U.S. Senate in “Manifesto,” and proposes that if moderate members began asserting themselves as independent from their parties, the cogs of Washington may begin to turn again.

“With a mere four or five U.S. Senate seats, the Centrists can deny either traditional party a majority. At that point, the Centrists would be America’s power brokers…good things can start happening again,” Wheelan writes.

He’s right, but who might these four to five senators be? At the moment, they would almost assuredly be Democrats.

Take a look at the vote scoring of the 112th Senate (which ended after the 2012 election,) done by political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal. The NOMINATE scale, an abbreviation for Nominal Three-Step Estimation, is immensely complex, and explaining it is well beyond the scope of this piece. Please accept for a moment that -1 on the scale is the score of the most liberal senator imaginable, and 1 is the most conservative. Zero is the perfect middle.

You may note the slight asymmetry of the distribution. I would mark the area between -0.25 and 0.25 as centrist territory. Thirteen of these centrists were Democrats, and only five were Republicans. Of these five, only Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Susan Collins (R-ME) remain in the 113th Senate. Murkowski, it should be noted, held on to her seat in 2010 only after a miraculous write-in campaign overruled GOP primary voters, who nominated fringe Tea Party candidate Joe Miller.

You might also note that NOMINATE scores President Obama as being as liberal as Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) was conservative. Obama commands the approval of nearly 80 percent of Democrats, while Lugar was dismissed by GOP voters in favor of a man who believed that “God’s intent” was for women to bear the children of their rapists.

A Pew Research Center poll released this week found that 82 percent of “consistently liberal” respondents said they would like elected officials to make compromises; only 14 percent said they would prefer that elected officials stick to their positions. When offered the same dichotomy, “consistently conservative” respondents said they would prefer elected officials hold fast to their views by a 63 to 32 percent margin.

This Republican intransigence left Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein, two of the most prominent scholars of the Senate, to place the blame for Washington’s dysfunction squarely on the GOP in their 2012 book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.

“When one party moves this far from the center of American politics, it is extremely difficult to enact policies responsive to the country’s most pressing challenges,” Mann and Ornstein write.

Of course, we recently had two years of almost unfettered Democratic control in Washington. Was the record of the 111th Congress, which reigned in 2009 and 2010, perfect? Of course not. But it got things done, including passing a markedly centrist health care bill that has expanded coverage to more than 10 million people to date.

It got done because those four or five senators Wheelan speaks of cooperated. Those senators were all Democrats.

On the issues, I have no apparent disagreements with Wheelan. He’s a brilliant author and public policy expert.

But he, and others, has to drop these silly notions of false equivalence. I too hope for a day when Republicans in Washington are ready to rejoin mainstream political thought. But it does no good to pretend that they exist in that space now. And given the message that GOP voters just sent us from Virginia’s 7th congressional district, they aren’t coming back anytime soon.

Until the GOP is ready to return to rationality, centrists are left with no choice but to organize and vote for Democrats, and work within the Democratic Party to advance centrist goals.

 

By: Thomas L. Day, an Iraq War veteran and a Defense Council member of the Truman National Security Project; The National Memo, June 17, 2014

June 20, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other”: Chris Christie Has Some Pandering To Do In Advance Of His Next Campaign

A pretty significant religious right gathering it poised to get underway in a couple of hours, and the guest list is worth checking out.

Ralph Reed’s three-day Faith and Freedom Coalition conference begins today. This is your social conservative wing of the Republican Party. The speaking lineup:

 * Thursday (from noon to 1:30 pm ET): Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Ted Cruz (R-TX)

 * Friday (from 9:00 am to 1:30 pm ET): Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Rick Santorum, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

 * Friday (from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm ET): Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Texas Lt. Gov. nominee Dan Patrick, and Mike Huckabee

 * Saturday (from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm ET): Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

This, by the way, is only a partial list. The list of luminaries who’ll be on hand for the right-wing gathering also includes Herman Cain, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who’s likely to be elected Majority Leader in a few hours.

There are a few important angles to this. The first is that the Republican Party’s eagerness to pander to extreme social conservatives is hardly a thing of the past. On the contrary, there are 10 sitting members of the U.S. House (including half of the GOP leadership team), six sitting U.S. senators (including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell), and two sitting governors, all of whom will no doubt deliver red-meat speeches to this conservative evangelical crowd.

Second, the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” Conference is hosted and organized by Ralph Reed, a disgraced former lobbyist. Why would so many powerful Republican leaders want to associate with Reed given his scandalous past? Apparently because much of the political world has decided Reed’s controversial past no longer matters.

And finally, Chris Christie? Really?

The scandal-plagued New Jersey governor can certainly speak to whomever he pleases, but agreeing to speak at a religious right event organized by Ralph Reed, of all people, isn’t exactly an obvious move. It was Christie, after all, who said he’s “tired of dealing with the crazies” after far-right activists criticized the governor for nominating a Muslim judge.

One assumes many of those “crazies” will be on hand for the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s event today.

Indeed, the director of the New Jersey branch of the Faith and Freedom Coalition has repeatedly condemned Christie for being insufficiently right-wing on the issues social conservatives care about most.

But Christie’s national ambitions clearly haven’t waned, and despite the awkward fit, the Garden State governor apparently has some pandering to do in advance of his next campaign.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 19, 2014

June 20, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Religious Right | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Dumb Do We Have To Be?”: Should We Listen To Those Who Were Wrong On Iraq In 2002?

Last week, I wrote a post over at the Washington Post expressing amazement that so many of the people who were so spectacularly wrong on Iraq in 2002 are now returning to tell us what we should do about Iraq in 2014. While it went out under the headline “On Iraq, let’s ignore those who got it all wrong,” I didn’t actually argue specifically that they should be ignored, just that we shouldn’t forget their track records when we hear them now (although I did allow that seeking out John McCain’s opinion on Iraq is like getting lost and deciding that Mr. Magoo is the person you need to ask for directions). Then yesterday, after Dick Cheney popped up with a predictably tendentious criticism of Barack Obama, I wrote another post on the topic of our former vice president, and here I did get a little more explicit about how his opinions should be greeted, after running through some of his more appalling howlers:

There is not a single person in America — not Bill Kristol, not Paul Wolfowitz, not Don Rumsfeld, no pundit, not even President Bush himself — who has been more wrong and more shamelessly dishonest on the topic of Iraq than Dick Cheney.

And now, as the cascade of misery and death and chaos he did so much to unleash rages anew, Cheney has the unadulterated gall to come before the country and tell us that it’s all someone else’s fault, and if we would only listen to him then we could keep America safe forever. How dumb would we have to be to listen?

Is there a bit of over-enthusiasm with which people like me are attacking the return of the Iraq War caucus? Maybe. Part of it comes from the fact that a decade ago, those of us who were right about the whole thing were practically called traitors because we doubted that Iraq would turn out to be a splendid little war. And part of it comes from the fact that the band of morons who sold and executed the worst foreign policy disaster in American history not only didn’t receive the opprobrium they deserved, they all did quite well for themselves. Paul Wolfowitz became president of the World Bank. Paul Bremer, Tommy Franks, and George Tenet—a trio of incompetents to rival the Three Stooges—each got the Medal of Freedom in honor of their stellar performance. Bill Kristol was rewarded with the single most prestigious perch in the American media, a column in the New York Times. (The drivel he turned out was so appallingly weak that they axed him after a year.) The rest of the war cheerleaders in the media retained their honored positions in the nation’s newspapers and on our TV screens. The worst thing that happened to any of them was getting a cushy sinecure at a conservative think tank.

But Jonathan Chait sounds a note of dissent on the idea that all these people should simply be ignored, and I think he probably has a point:

When you’re trying to set the terms for a debate, you have to do it in a fair way. Demanding accountability for failed predictions is fair. Insisting that only your ideological opponents be held accountable is not fair. Nor is it easy to see what purpose is served by insisting certain people ought to be ignored. The way arguments are supposed to work is that the argument itself, not the identity of the arguer, makes the case. We shouldn’t disregard Dick Cheney’s arguments about Iraq because he’s Dick Cheney. We should disregard them because they’re stupid.

In my Cheney post I did make some attempt to address his argument about Iraq, but it was rather hard to find, because like most conservatives, he (and daughter Liz, with whom he co-wrote that op-ed) are silent on what they would actually do that Barack Obama is not doing. But when it comes to the war brigade, we can do both: We should keep recalling their past blunders, and look thoroughly at what they’re saying now. They can and should be accountable for both their past and their present. The latter is showing no greater promise than the former did.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, June 19, 2014

June 20, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Iraq War | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Of The Orange Man”: Boehner “Leads” By Anticipating Exactly How Much Rope His Caucus Will Give Him

House Republicans are having them some leadership elections today, with Kevin McCarthy considered sure to overcome Raul Labrador for the defenestrated Eric Cantor’s Majority Leader position, while three members (Steve Scalise, Peter Roskam and Marlin Stutzman) compete for McCarthy’s Whip position. Scalise, currently chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, is considered the front-runner in that race.

But the consequence of Cantor’s demise that hasn’t made much news is that it will likely keep John Boehner in place for another two years. Carl Hulse of the New York Times has that story:

Significant uncertainty had remained about whether the man who has led the House since 2011 would run again for speaker, given his frustrations with his own members and some of their very public frustration with him. Allies said Mr. Boehner himself might not have known what he would ultimately do.

But Mr. Cantor’s abrupt departure from the leadership quickly put to rest any talk of Mr. Boehner’s retirement.

Members of Mr. Boehner’s circle said they immediately made clear to the speaker that he could no longer even consider stepping down, since doing so would leave the fractious House Republican conference without its top two leaders and with an extremely short list of colleagues able to fill that void.

The day after Mr. Cantor’s loss, Mr. Boehner told his colleagues that he intended to run again for speaker, and the declaration was met by many with relief. The shake-up has strengthened his hand in many respects, giving him stronger control of the agenda.

“Now he really is the indispensable man,” Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, said.

Yeah, but one who often “leads” by anticipating exactly how much rope his caucus will give him. I’m sure the president will be thrilled to learn that absent some electoral tsunami in November, the Orange Man, smelling slightly of nicotine and brimstone, will be sitting behind him for yet another State of the Union address next January.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington MOnthly Political Animal, June 19, 2014

June 20, 2014 Posted by | House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Gall Of Dick Cheney”: His Whole Legacy Is Wrapped In Wrong And Written In Blood

The situation in Iraq is truly worrisome, as militants threaten to tear the country asunder and disrupt the fragile, short-lived period absent all-out war there.

We have strategic interests in preventing Iraq from unraveling, not least of which is that we don’t need the country to become a haven for terrorists, particularly those who might see America as a target.

And of course, there is the uneasy subject of oil: Volatility in the region has already sent global oil prices soaring. On Wednesday, militants were said to have taken control of Iraq’s largest oil refinery.

We have to tread carefully here. There are no saints to be seen in this situation. Everyone’s hands are bloody. And, we don’t want to again get mired in a conflict in a country from which we have only recently extricated ourselves.

As we weigh our response, one of the last people who should say anything on the subject is a man who is partly responsible for the problem.

But former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in the administration that deceived us into a nine-year war in Iraq, just can’t seem to keep his peace.

In an Op-Ed published with his daughter, Liz, in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, the Cheneys write:

“Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.”

This, from the man who helped lead us into this trumped-up war, searching for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, a war in which some 4,500 members of the American military were killed, many thousands more injured, and that is running a tab of trillions of dollars.

During the lead-up to the war, Mr. Cheney said to Tim Russert: “I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.” Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Even if it were indeed rare to be “so wrong,” as Mr. Cheney puts it, he was vice president in an administration that was much more tragically wrong. His whole legacy is wrapped in wrong.

At one point in the article, the Cheneys state:

“Iraq is at risk of falling to a radical Islamic terror group and Mr. Obama is talking climate change. Terrorists take control of more territory and resources than ever before in history, and he goes golfing.”

Mr. Cheney must think that we have all forgotten the scene from “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Michael Moore’s 2004 documentary, in which President George W. Bush, brandishing a club on a golf course, looks into the camera and says,

“I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you.”

That is quickly followed by, “Now, watch this drive,” and a shot of Bush swinging at the ball.

In fact, on one of the rare occasions that Mr. Cheney was actually right, in 1994, he warned about the problems that would be created by deposing Saddam Hussein:

“Once you got to Iraq and took it over, and took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq you can easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it the Syrians would like to have to the west. Part of eastern Iraq, the Iranians would like to claim, fought over for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire.”

That was quite prescient. And yet, the Bush administration pushed us into the Iraq war anyway, and the quagmire we now confront.

That’s why it’s so galling to read Mr. Cheney chastising this administration for its handling of the disaster that Mr. Cheney himself foresaw, but ignored.

I know that we as Americans have short attention spans, but most of us don’t suffer from amnesia. The Bush administration created this mess, and the Obama administration now has to clean it up.

The Cheneys wrote: “This president is willfully blind to the impact of his policies,” Mr. Cheney seemingly oblivious to the irony.

George W. Bush may well have been a disaster of a president (in a 2010 Siena College Research Institute survey, 238 presidential scholars ranked Bush among the five “worst ever” presidents in American history), but at least he has the dignity and grace — or shame and humility — to recede from public life with his family and his painting, and not chide and meddle with the current administration as it tries to right his wrong.

Mr. Cheney, meanwhile, is still trying to bend history toward an exoneration of his guilt and an expunging of his record. But history, on this, is stiff, and his record is c.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 18, 2014

 

 

 

 

June 20, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Dick Cheney, Iraq War | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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