Tag Archives: Republican Party

The Time for Sister Souljahs

Michael Cohen argues McCain needs a Sister Souljah moment:

Today, polls suggest that the American electorate prefers the Democratic Party on virtually every major domestic issue. If Barack Obama wanted to slap down a politically unhelpful liberal interest group he’d be hard pressed to find one. The same, however, cannot be said of the Republican Party and John McCain, and here is where Republicans could learn a great deal from Bill Clinton.

As social conservatives, foreign policy neo-conservatives and anti-tax and pro-business voices have come to dominate the G.O.P. coalition, the Republican Party has become as closely linked, both politically and in terms of policy, to their special interest groups as Democrats were to theirs in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s.

John McCain’s political evolution, or possibly devolution, during the last eight years speaks volumes about the hold of these special interests. During his 2000 race for the Republican nomination, McCain openly derided the religious leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, as agents of intolerance.

Today, he actively seeks the support of such far right religious figures and has delivered a number of major speeches in recent weeks that narrowly appeal to social conservative audiences, on topics from defending religious freedom to attacking activist judges. In 2001 and 2003, Mr. McCain voted against the Bush tax cuts, but today he apes the supply-side economic theory and militant anti-tax orthodoxy of Grover Norquist and Club for Growth. Like Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis in the 1980s, Mr. McCain has demonstrated little choice but to embrace the policy agenda of his party’s most prominent interest groups. His fealty to these groups not only limits his political mobility, but it threatens his once unimpeachable reformist image.

In 2000, John McCain declared of Republicans: “we are the party of Theodore Roosevelt, not the party of special interests.” But Roosevelt split from the G.O.P. because of its growing identification with the nation’s business trusts and its abandonment of progressive values. If Mr. McCain were the true descendant of Roosevelt, he would be running against the modern Republican Party and its special interests.

In the short-term Mr. McCain’s moves may seem like smart politics; lock up the conservative base and spend the summer and fall reaching out to moderate voters. But as a generation of Democrats can testify, once the party gets into bed with its special interest groups it’s not easy to end the relationship.

As loath as it might be for John McCain, taking a page from Bill Clinton and delivering the type of speech he gave 16 years ago cannot come soon enough.

McCain really did used to Sister Souljah the Republican party all the time.

But McCain feels like he learned a valuable lesson when he lost the GOP nomination eight years ago — Republicans do not reward rebels, they reward those who stick to the script. Those interest groups that make up the Republican coalition demand fealty, and dissenters do not fare well. Ever.

So, we get the John McCain we see today, who tends to disagree with the up-until-recently John McCain on almost everything. He could try another “Sister Souljah moment” and score points with independents and moderates, but I’d argue it’s too late — McCain has made his far-right bed and now he has to lie in it.

If he were to try to reinvent himself again, and go back to the persona that had no use for Republican orthodoxy, McCain would probably be in even worse shape than he is now — the right would be livid, and everyone else would see through the transparency of his pandering.

That strikes me as McCain’s big problem. He took the wrong lesson from 2000. He ran as a candidate who repudiated Republican orthodoxies in a primary, while having to appeal to the people most likely to hold those orthodoxies. Clinton’s Sister Souljah moment was after he had the nomination locked up, not when trying to win it. If McCain had run as a more orthodox Republican in 2000 and saved his repudiation of Republicans until the general election, we may well have been living under a McCain administration the last 8 years.

Instead, McCain had to repudiate all of his past repudiations of Republican orthodoxy to win this year, leaving him with no room to pivot back to the middle. A lot of McCain’s problems this year are caused by the campaign he ran in 2000. Given the differences between McCain’s 2000 and 2008 campaigns, a return to Sister Souljah politics would do nothing more for McCain than paint him as a pandering, power-hungry hypocrite.

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John McSame?

Patrick Ruffini thinks Democrats are making a big mistake in pushing the message that John McCain would effectively be George Bush’s third term.

The problem is that it runs counter to some deeply ingrained perceptions about McCain, the most transparently un-Bush candidate Republicans could have nominated. How does one overlook the fact that amongst Republican primary voters most dissatisfied with Bush, McCain dominated. Or McCain’s bitter rivalry with the President that lingered long beyond the 2000 election, culminating in charges that he threatened to leave the party, and now, that he didn’t even vote for President Bush in 2000? How does Arianna’s story square with the narrative of “McSame?”

The Democrats have chosen to run the same campaign against McCain as they would have run against Romney or Huckabee. This will turn out to be a strategic mistake.

Why? Because they ignore the new media reality that no amount of points on television can overturn a narrative backed up by the free media. The left’s “McSame” campaign is an example of the particularly crude communications tactic of countermessaging. Countermessaging consists solely of challenging a prevailing public narrative. The media is not liberal. There was no housing bubble. Global warming is a myth.

Ruffini is right that “Bush-McCain tensions have been a recurring theme in our collective political psyche for nearly a decade.” But what he ignores is the fact that to win the Republican nomination John McCain moved towards Bush on a huge variety of issues. The fact is that on the two biggest issues the electorate will be facing this fall, Iraq and the economy, there is very little difference between John McCain. There used to be, particularly on the economy, but there just aren’t now.

Iraq is the clearest example of where McCain is running for Bush’s third term. He has simply offered no strategic thinking on Iraq beyond Bush’s. He doesn’t have an exit strategy, or even long term strategic goals for Iraq, beyond Bush’s position that we’ll leave when Iraq is a stable, peaceful, self governing democracy. That’s obviously not going to happen anytime soon. Obama, on the other hand, has clear strategic goals. Agree with his policy or not, he thinks that staying in Iraq is damaging to America’s ability to fight the war against al-Qaeda and that is in our strategic interest to withdraw the vast majority of our troops. McCain hasn’t offered anything beyond Bush’s thinking.

On the economy, McCain used to have substantial differences with Bush. He opposed Bush’s tax cut and had a strong deficit hawk streak in him. Those differences disappeared when John McCain ran for President. He went from opposing the tax cuts because they were fiscally irresponsible, but to appeal to the Republican base he flip-flopped and made the extension of the tax cuts a central element of his candidacy. But beyond that, he embraced the Bush/Grover Norquist position that you can never, ever raise any taxes no matter what. Plus, in an effort to appeal to the Republican base, McCain is now offering more of the same type of tax cuts Bush offered. Again, McCain is offering more of the same.

Beyond Iraq and the economy, the issue that McCain is most associated with is immigration reform. Yet on immigration reform McCain is known for standing with Bush against the Tancredo wing of the Republican party. Again, this helps the Democrats in their quest to associate McCain with Bush, even if it a good policy.

The economy isn’t the only issue where McCain has moved closer to Bush. McCain’s recently announced healthcare plan was described in the San Francisco Chronicle as “similar to one Bush put forth in his 2007 State of the Union address.” The New York Times wrote that “His proposal to move away from employer-based coverage was similar to one that President Bush pushed for last year, to little effect.” MSNBC asked if McCain’s plan was “Just Like Bush’s Plan.”

McCain used to be strongly opposed to the influence of the religious right in American politics. He famously called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance.” Yet, to win over the Republican base, McCain gave last year’s commencement address at Falwell’s Liberty University. And today he’s hanging out with folks like John Hagee and Rod Parsley.

John McCain’s signature foreign policy proposal is his plan for a league of democracies. Yet even that is offering more of Bush’s policy. What McCain is essentially proposing is institutionalizing Bush’s coalition of the willing and using it to authorize future military expeditions.

Ruffini writes that “The Democrats have chosen to run the same campaign against McCain as they would have run against Romney or Huckabee.” There are two very good reasons why such a strategy makes sense.

Firstly, McCain ran for the Republican nomination as a Bush/Romney clone. If you think back, McCain most intense fights with Romney weren’t about policy proposals. They were about who deviated most from the tax-cutting/pro-Iraq Republican orthodoxy. The fights of the whole Republican primary where all about who raised taxes during in their previous position (a charge that came after Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani, and McCain) and who was insufficiently enthusiastic about the surge. Indeed, the whole GOP primary was about personality, not policy. With the slight exception of Huckabee, all of the candidates ran within the same orthodoxy. All of the candidates, including McCain, are creatures of the Bush Republican party.

Secondly, Bush is the biggest electoral albatross in history. Bush is more unpopular than Nixon. Given that McCain is offering a very similar policy platform to Bush, tying him to Bush makes a lot of political sense, and can be expected to be successful.

Now, I think Democrats would be very smart to take Ruffini’s advice and “always juxtapose with McCain’s past Bush opposition to make him appear inconsistent. But publicly recognize that Bush and McCain were once opposed, so you don’t take the credibility hit you would from straight-up McCain Maverick Denial.”

Such a approach would be doubly useful. It would attack McCain’s credibility and tie him to Bush. I think that Democrats will be smart enough to follow this tack. We’re at the very beginning of Democratic attacks on McCain and it does make some sense to tie him to Bush first, then go after the flip-flopping. Plus, Barack Obama’s media operation is much more effective than David Brock’s and will be better at attacking McCain. But the simple fact that McCain is offering a similar platform to Bush will seriously harm him in the general election.


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Newt Gingrich. He Half Gets It

The GOP is in trouble. Newt Gingrich gets that much.

The Republican loss in the special election for Louisiana’s Sixth Congressional District last Saturday should be a sharp wake up call for Republicans: Either Congressional Republicans are going to chart a bold course of real change or they are going to suffer decisive losses this November.

At first, he even seems to get that the same old tactics won’t work.

The Republican brand has been so badly damaged that if Republicans try to run an anti-Obama, anti- Reverend Wright, or (if Senator Clinton wins), anti-Clinton campaign, they are simply going to fail.

This model has already been tested with disastrous results.

In 2006, there were six incumbent Republican Senators who had plenty of money, the advantage of incumbency, and traditionally successful consultants.

But the voters in all six states had adopted a simple position: “Not you.” No matter what the GOP Senators attacked their opponents with, the voters shrugged off the attacks and returned to, “Not you.”

The danger for House and Senate Republicans in 2008 is that the voters will say, “Not the Republicans.”

But then, we get to his solutions. Gingrich wants the GOP to adopt an agenda of “real change” to galvanize their supporters and tap into the national wave that Barack Obama has so successfully tapped into. He offers 9 proposals that the GOP should advance in an attempt to steal Obama’s mojo. So what does he offer?

Repeal the gas tax for the summer, and pay for the repeal by cutting domestic discretionary spending so that the transportation infrastructure trust fund would not be hurt.

So, lets go for the same transparent pander that is universally opposed by economists and policy experts, continue to subsidize gasoline, buffering demand and increasing carbon emissions and making it harder to move towards renewable energy. Not to mention the fact that it wouldn’t even reduce the price at the pump. So, strike one for real change.

Redirect the oil being put into the national petroleum reserve onto the open market.

Another transparent pander. There is relatively little oil that actually goes into the SPR and redirecting it would do very little to reduce the price. This is a pander that has been proposed by Al Gore and John Kerry, but it really wouldn’t do anything. Change? Nope. More of the same. Strike two.

Introduce a “more energy at lower cost with less environmental damage and greater national security bill” as a replacement for the Warner-Lieberman “tax and trade” bill

I see. Ponies for everyone. There are no tradeoffs to be had here. We can have more energy, at less cost, for less environmental damage. If such an idea is out there please show it to me. No politician, anywhere, ever would oppose it. The Warner-Lieberman bill isn’t perfect. But it does implement a market based, cap and trade approach to carbon emissions, which is the best way to deal with the problem. (Also, given the way cap and trade works, it should be most compatible with Newt’s conservative ideology.) Real change? Nope. Strike three. But Newt’s not out yet.

Establish an earmark moratorium for one year and pledge to uphold the presidential veto of bills with earmarks through the end of 2009.

Huh. Real change is what the GOP is already proposing. I see. Yet they can’t even get their own caucus to agree to it (which makes sense, given that the explosion of earmarks came under their watch), and as John McCain has shown, earmarks are so easy to get rid of. Strike 4.

Overhaul the census and cut its budget radically

Ok. Not a bad idea. Its a little small bore for what the country is asking for, but given the recent failure to the Census Bureau to find a way to develop a computerized way to do the census I’d be ok with slashing the budget and encouraging the Census Bureau to innovate. This is Newt at his best. Pragmatic, technocratic and non-ideological. This makes a ton of sense and I’d love to see either party jump on this one. Thats 1 for 5 so far.

Implement a space-based, GPS-style air traffic control system.

Again, good idea. using GPS in airplanes makes a ton of sense and modernizing out air traffic control system would increase capacity and make the whole system run more smoothly. He’s up to 2-6.

Declare English the official language of government.

Yup. This one is real change. It’d make a huge difference in Americans’ lives. Not a symbolic pander to nativist sentiment at all. 2-7.

Protect the workers’ right to a secret ballot.

Ok. This one is a little more complicate. I can see the problems with the employee free choice act, which Gingrich is opposing here. Whereas the current system is plagued by employer intimidation and illegal firings, the EFCA would reverse the tables and open to door to intimidation by union organizers. Its not ideal. The system clearly needs reform. I’m not sure EFCA is the be all end all, but I’m generally ok with the pendulum swinging a bit too far towards workers as an antidote to the current problems. But I dont’ get worked up about it. However, in terms of real change, this is pretty thin gruel. You could sum it up as “stand with business interests to protect the status quo.” Real change indeed. We’re up to 2 out of 8.

Remind Americans that judges matter

Translated as: “Keep up warning Americans about those scary “activist judges” (read: judges we don’t agree with) who will make you marry your brother in law and force your wife to have an abortion.” Thats a real change in the Republican agenda, ain’t it?

So, 2 out of Gingrich’s 9 ideas might be good ones, but their pretty small potatoes in comparison to the change Americans are demanding. What’s striking is what isn’t on Gingrich’s list. Iraq, healthcare, foreign policy or the economy. Its a little difference that the GOP strategy of recent election, which was tax cuts, scary arabs, tax cuts, terrorists are going to eat your children, tax cuts and lies. But not much.

Good thing too. Democrats could actually have trouble if Republicans actually embraced an agenda of Real Change. Good thing Newt doesn’t know what one looks like.

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