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“Republicans Don’t Care What Works”: Speaking To The Heart Of What Has Gone Wrong With The Republican Party

What little attention the right wing media machine isn’t devoting to the sordid mudslinging between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump is focused on a statement President Obama made about practicalities and ideologies:

I guess to make a broader point, so often in the past there’s been a sharp division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist. And especially in the Americas, that’s been a big debate, right? Oh, you know, you’re a capitalist Yankee dog, and oh, you know, you’re some crazy communist that’s going to take away everybody’s property. And I mean, those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don’t have to worry about whether it neatly fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory — you should just decide what works.

For Republicans this is tantamount to heresy and treason. The Washington Times is raving about it, as is Michelle Malkin, the Daily Caller and other conservative outlets.

This isn’t terribly surprising, of course, but it speaks to the heart of what has gone wrong with the Republican Party and conservatism itself. While the neoliberal and progressive wings of the Democratic Party are often at loggerheads, the arguments aren’t about pure ideology but about practicality. Clinton’s supporters see her as more electable, more able to work with Congress to implement policy, and more experienced with the policy nuances that will allow incremental progress to be made alongside a GOP Congress. Sanders’ supporters see the economic and political system as fundamentally broken, believe that a more aggressive approach to the bully pulpit and policy negotiation will be necessary to fix what’s wrong, and feel that more holistic and universal government approaches to problems will work better than means-tested half measures. But both sides are making practical arguments about what will actually work from an electoral and political standpoint.

Not so with Republicans. The GOP has devolved into a party that no longer cares about what works. The GOP is now divided between the Trumpists who (like Sanders’ supporters) believe that the system is broken and working against them while also (unlike Sanders’ supporters) raging against a complex multicultural and tolerant modernity, and the Cruzites who are wedded in an almost cult-like fashion to economically objectivist and Christian fundamentalist orthodoxy.

The result of the conservative movement’s failure to acknowledge policy realities can be seen most prominently in Kansas and Louisiana, where the red-state model of governance is failing catastrophically even as blue states like California are booming. In a functional political ecosystem that would be a cause for reckoning and introspection, but no acknowledgement of failure has been forthcoming from the GOP. Instead its candidates are doubling down on more of the same. For them, conservative orthodoxy cannot fail; it can only be failed.

In the days of the Cold War when capitalism and communism vied for supremacy, there was an understanding that one’s preferred system of governance had to actually deliver results or the people would revolt and make a change. The openness of democracies and market economies allowed them to soften the sharp edges and mitigate the flaws of capitalism with a healthy dose of compensatory socialism, while the closed systems of state communism led to brutal totalitarian outcomes. So capitalism won the war of ideas and appropriately so–but that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect system. Modern Republicans have totally lost sight of that fact. For them, markets don’t exist to serve people. Rather, people exist to serve markets.

The obvious human shortcomings of that belief system are what is allowing Trump to run a successful counterinsurgency within the GOP that tosses aside donors’ dearly held shibboleths about trade and taxation. Even David Brooks acknowledges that the GOP has to ideologically change course to account for capitalism’s failure to address rising inequality.

But for now, the leadership and media organs of the conservative movement remain obsessed with promoting ideology over practicality so much that a simple statement from the President that economies should simply pick solutions that work, somehow becomes a fundamental betrayal.

That lack of flexibility and cultish devotion to ideological purity (in addition to an intentional reliance on racial and cultural resentment) is what ruined the Republican Party in the first place. Now it’s paying the price.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 26, 2016

March 27, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Conservative Media, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Their Own Call For Reflection”: It’s Not Just Republicans; Progressives Also Have A Crisis On Their Hands

Obama Derangement Syndrome is striking Republicans once again.

To avoid having to answer for the rise of Donald Trump, they want to hold the man in the White House responsible for the emergence of a demagogic showman who has been the loudest voice challenging the legal right of the winner of two elections to be there.

Obama picked his words carefully but with some quiet glee when he was asked about this at a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday. “I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things,” Obama said, “but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party is” — here he paused, enjoying the moment — “novel.”

On the contrary, Obama insisted, it was Republicans who had created “an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive” and allowed “the circus we’ve been seeing to transpire.” He urged his opponents to “do some introspection.”

That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

I should acknowledge a stake in this fight, having published a book in January called “Why the Right Went Wrong” arguing that the emergence of Trump was the logical consequence of a half-century of conservative history and of the steady legitimation of extremist ideas within the GOP. The nation, not just the Republican Party, desperately needs a different and more constructive brand of conservatism.

But if progressives are to beat back an increasingly virulent right and encourage the emergence of a more temperate form of conservatism, they have to ponder the crisis on their own side that is visible in this campaign and in most of the European democracies as well.

The strength of Bernie Sanders’s challenge to Hillary Clinton from the left, like the radicalization of American conservatism, is a symptom of the decay of a moderate brand of progressivism that rose in the 1990s when Bill Clinton was president and Tony Blair was Britain’s prime minister. Its ideology was rooted in a belief that capitalism would deliver the economic goods and could be balanced by a “competent public sector, providing services of quality to the citizen and social protection for those who are vulnerable.”

Those last words are Blair’s from a collection of essays by 11 center-left politicians from around the world released on Friday by the Center for American Progress and Canada 2020 to coincide with Trudeau’s visit to the United States. The title of their effort, “Global Progress,” is optimistic, and Bill Clinton, for one, continued to express confidence that government could “empower people with the tools to make the most of their own lives and to create the institutions and conditions for them to succeed.”

This never stopped being a good idea, but the sober reflections of Ricardo Lagos, Chile’s former president, pointed to the “significant challenge to progressive politics” created by the economic crisis of 2008. It raised “profound questions” about policies “that favored deregulation of the economy and allowed the financial system to self-regulate.” The moderate left, it turns out, had more confidence in a loosely governed capitalism than was merited by the facts.

And in the post-crash period, progressives largely lost the argument against austerity policies. A significant exception was the United States during the first two years of Obama’s term: Keynesian policies helped lead to a revival of the U.S. economy that was faster and more robust than in other places. But continued economic sluggishness, Lagos argued, feeds “the anger and alienation of a dangerous populism on the extreme left and right.” Trudeau himself said Friday that the economically excluded “don’t feel like this idea of progress holds.”

Lodewijk Asscher, the deputy prime minister of the Netherlands, wrote of the challenge to national identity created by immigration and the fear of terrorism. He called for “building a society based on solidarity in which people are seen as individuals instead of members of their group and someone’s background remains just a background.” Well, yes, but, as Asscher no doubt knows, this is easier said than done.

If Republicans delude themselves that Obama is responsible for Trump, there’s little hope for the soul-searching their party requires — all the more so after the violence and threats at Trump’s rallies.

But progressives of moderate inclinations can’t use the right’s shortcomings to blind them to their own call for reflection. Those who believe in gradual, steady progress need to provide plausible responses to a world both less secure and less orderly than it was in the 1990s. Otherwise, the alternatives, as Trump is showing us, will be both irrational and grim.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 14, 2016

March 15, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Progressives, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“To Regulate Or Break Up?”: The Difference Between An Insurrectionist And An Institutionalist

Anyone who has been able to sit through both the Republican and Democratic presidential debates is very well-versed in the chasm that currently exists between the two parties. When all is said and done, the public is going to have a very clear choice between two starkly different directions for our country to embrace in November 2016. That is a good thing – especially for Democrats who seemed intent on watering down the differences in the 2014 midterms.

But Tuesday’s debate also clarified the differences between Clinton and Sanders. Matt Yglesias does a good job of teeing that up.

To Clinton, policy problems require policy solutions, and the more nuanced and narrowly tailored the solution, the better. To Sanders, policy problems stem from a fundamental imbalance of political power..The solution isn’t to pass a smart new law, it’s to spark a “political revolution” that upends the balance of power.

As we know from both the debate and their position statements, Clinton wants to regulate the big financial institutions and Sanders wants to break them up. The argument from the Sanders wing is that we can’t trust the government to be the regulator.

I remember that same argument coming up between liberals during the health care debate. Those who dismissed the ACA in favor of single payer often said that any attempt to regulate health insurance companies was a waste of time. I always found that odd based on the Democratic tradition of embracing government regulation as the means to correct the excesses of capitalism.

This basically comes down to whether you agree with Sanders when he says that we need a “political revolution that upends the balance of power” or do you agree with Clinton when she said, “it’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok.” Peter Beinart calls it the difference between an insurrectionist and an institutionalist.

Depending on where you stand on that question, your solutions will look very different. That helps me understand why I never thought Sanders’ policy proposals were serious. Someone who assumes that the entire system is rigged isn’t going to be that interested in “nuanced and narrowly tailored policies” to fix it.

But in the end, this puts even more of a responsibility on Sanders’ shoulders. If he wants a political revolution to upend a rigged system, he needs to be very precise about what he has in mind as a replacement to that system. Otherwise, he’s simply proposing chaos.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 15, 2015

October 16, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Financial Institutions, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Grounded In Reality”: Democrats Have Become The Party Of ‘Normal’

Who “won” the Democratic debate? The Democratic Party won. All the presidential candidates, from the most flamboyant to the most contained, talked seriously about issues, even straying from liberal orthodoxy.

Hillary Clinton’s upbeat morning-in-America approach contrasted with Bernie Sanders’ eve-of-destruction — I mean revolution. But both stood grounded in reality, with special kudos to America’s favorite socialist for some refreshing breaths of nuance on polarizing issues.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — not a crazy Republican but one who often talked crazy — once called Democrats “the enemy of normal Americans.” Who’s looking normal now?

Surely not Republican Carly Fiorina, condemning abortion with a gruesome description of a fabricated video she never saw. Not Ben Carson or Rand Paul, who, despite being doctors, didn’t strenuously counter Donald Trump’s contention that vaccinations put children at risk. Trump doesn’t seem normal even when he’s right.

The consensus said that Clinton walked off with it. She did, but it was an ensemble performance. Sanders struck the high note by mocking the overblown controversy over Clinton’s use of private emails as secretary of state.

“The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” Sanders said. “Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.”

And the Democrats generally dived under the surface of today’s public debates. Clinton chided Sanders for his skepticism on some gun control measures, but Sanders had it exactly right.

He explained that his state, Vermont, has a rural hunting culture that doesn’t see guns as always evil. Sanders backed a ban on assault rifles but opposed letting gun shops be sued if a gun they sell legally is used in a crime. Common sense all around.

The immigration discussion offered a welcome balance between the need to deal humanely with people here illegally and the need for controls. Sanders defended his attack on an immigration plan that would have admitted huge numbers of “guest workers” to compete with low-wage Americans. If only more Democrats would talk that way.

Former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia spoke up for struggling poor whites, another welcome reference in a party that too often frames policy in racial or ethnic terms. And thank you, Jim Webb, for saying, “No country is a country without defining its borders.”

All in all, though, it was Clinton’s show. Responding to Sanders’ declaration of love for Scandinavian socialism, Clinton firmly replied: “We are the United States of America. And it’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok and doesn’t cause the kind of inequities that we’re seeing in our economic system.”

The consensus erred in naming Webb the evening’s “loser.” The former Navy secretary did great in his seething, quiet way. He steered the debate away from cloying political correctness. This very smart son of Appalachia would make a great vice presidential candidate.

Few noticed that Webb provided the wittiest remark of the evening. That came when he dryly informed Sanders that he doesn’t “think the revolution’s going to come.”

The most unintentionally funny line was from CNN moderator Anderson Cooper.

“In all candor,” Cooper said to Clinton, “you and your husband are part of the 1 percent. How can you credibly represent the views of the middle class?”

To borrow from the MasterCard ad, being questioned about losing credibility on matters of class because you’ve become rich: $2.03. Being so questioned by the son of a Vanderbilt: priceless.

Clinton is clearly moving on from intraparty debate to general election mode. The other candidates seemed to genuinely respect that pivot and gave her space.

How gratifying to hear a leading presidential candidate sound like a normal American and not get punished for it.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, October 15, 2015

October 15, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Primary Debates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“They’ll Kiss And Make Up”: Prophecies Of A Divorce Between The GOP And The Christian Right Are Very Premature

So here’s TNR’s Elizabeth Stoker Breunig with another of her provocative, eerily confident, and ultimately questionable meditations on the intersection of religion and politics. The headline she or her editors chose seems more or less appropriate to what she seems to be saying: “The Deterioration of the Christian Right Is Imminent.” Last time I wrote about one of her articles she seemed to be saying “the culture wars are over.” So it’s clear she sees a trend.

To parse her argument very succinctly (if you want the scenic tour of Bruenig’s piece, check out my colleague Martin Longman’s take at Ten Miles Square, which arrives at a similar destination by a different route), Bruenig views the rising conservative attacks on Mike Huckabee for economic policy heresy as a sign the Corporate Wing of the GOP has lost patience with the Christian Right, and is willing to do without it, substituting instead a watery commitment to Christian evangelical rhetoric they can get from any number of less troublesome presidential candidates. Bruenig hopes that in turn that the scales will fall from the eyes of true conservative Christians, who will finally realize they’ve sold their birthright for a mess of pottage and turn elsewhere–where I’m not sure–for vindication of their values.

I wish I could agree with this analysis, but it depends crucially on the belief that support for capitalism is extrinsic to conservative evangelical Christianity, and has been undertaken as part of some sort of bargain–corrupt, perhaps, but still a bargain–between the agents of God and of Mammon. If the bargain is broken by the merchants of greed, then presumably their half-willing Christian allies may bail. But from everything I’ve read and seen, the spirit of capitalism and many of its associated impulses have deeply sunk into the American Christian, and especially conservative evangelical, world view. And that’s not at all surprising, since the people we are largely talking about have in the mean time traveled from farm to small town to city to suburb, and are living lives fully integrated with the market economy and mentality. They’re as likely to object to Huckabee’s heresies on trade and entitlement as to support them.

And that leads to the other problem with Bruenig’s case: I don’t know that Huckabee’s (or for that matter, Rick Santorum’s) economic “populism” has any particular religious foundation. He’s trying to exploit a very simple contradiction between the economic views of Republican politicians and of their voters: the GOP “base” is heavily concentrated among older and non-college-educated white folks. Few of them care for “entitlement reform,” if it comes at their perceived expense, and a decent number have never supported “free trade,” either. Huckabee is clearly trying to break out of his conservative-evangelical political ghetto into a broader neighborhood of potential allies against the GOP Establishment people who rejected him back in 2008. Whether or not it works, the Christian Right has no inherent dog in this fight, and as Bruenig acknowledges, there are plenty of other candidates who are willing to check all the boxes on the Christian Right’s agenda.

Yes, as Bruenig notes, some businesses are breaking with the Christian Right on the scope of “religious liberty” laws, as are some Republican politicians. But let’s not forget that the victorious plaintiff in the most important recent Supreme Court case in this area, which expanded the ambit of “religious liberty” significantly, was the self-consciously Christian business Hobby Lobby. The Christian business Chick-Fil-A has been an enormous symbol in the culture wars. The pulpit-pounding leader of the wildly popular (on the Right) Duck Dynasty clan, Phil Robertson, called himself a “Bible-believing, gun-toting capitalist” to screaming applause this year at that libertarian-dominated event, CPAC. Huck himself is hardly William Jennings Bryan.

As Martin Longman says in the title of his post: “The Christian Right Ain’t Populist.” Nor is it uniquely represented by Mike Huckabee. Nor has it lost faith in the GOP. Nor is the GOP showing it the door.

Other than that, Breunig’s essay is, as all her articles are, quite stimulating. In this particular case, she kind of reminds me of an adult child whose parents have divorced, with one marrying someone the child regards as a despicable scoundrel. Any sign this second marriage could be on the rocks will quite rightly stir up the child’s hopes. But nine times out of ten, they’ll kiss and make up.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 14, 2015

May 15, 2015 Posted by | Christian Right, Evangelicals, GOP, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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