Tag Archives: republican civil war

David Frum – now extra ridiculous

The always intriguing Alex Pareene has a lengthy piece up on David Frum’s twin articles from the past month (one about how Ted Cruz could ostensibly become the Republican nominee for the presidency in 2016 and another about how he could then win a general election). Pareene seems to be doing two things in his look into Frum’s head – correcting the more egregious errors (like the plainly inaccurate levels of turnout in past elections he references), but also probing for what the hidden message for Democrats.

Pareene’s answer is a thoughtful look at how delusionally certain Frum is that Democrats “playing” the class card would wreck their chances for the White House in 2016. But he seems to be operating with the assumption that the intended audience for these pieces are Democrats, liberals, progressives, or some other faction in opposition to the GOP coalition.

(Where these columns make sense though, from here.)

It’s a common refrain on the right that the US is a center-right country, so even when writing for the Daily Beast, I don’t think it’s out of the question to consider that Frum might be talking to his political compatriots or just voicing an opinion for his own pleasure of seeing it in print. Taking that approach, of his latter article especially being more of a fantasy for Republicans than a warning to Democrats, there’s something else to be learned from it.

In between the relatively thoughtlessly strung together happenstances that Frum envisions as launching Cruz to the White House, there’s a lot of chestnuts. He says that Ted Cruz could on Spanish language television, in English, “This is America. We obey the law. People who can’t deal with that don’t belong here” and yet not motivate much of the Latin@ electorate to vote against such a hostile take on the issue of undocumented immigration. He has Cruz also simultaneously liberated from conventional fundraising avenues for conservatives (by “angel” donors) but without even a trace of being beholden to either those bankrollers or his conservative base, in terms of what he could run on.

Throughout both pieces there’s an implicit longing for a past formula to suddenly become feasible again. In the first, Frum writes,

“The plan [for Cruz’s ascendancy to the GOP nomination] is obvious enough: to emerge as the next acknowledged political leader of American conservatism in the apostolic succession that begins with Robert Taft, continued through Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, and has had no agreed successor since Newt Gingrich’s retirement from Congress in 1998.”

In case that conspicuous absence at the end there isn’t obvious enough, there’s this gem from the second piece: “Cruz delivered half his convention speech in Spanish and used the other half to rededicate the party to “the compassion of conservatism,” a subtle variant of an old phrase that delighted convention delegates.” Yes, what Frum really seems to want is to reinvent the second Bush administration’s political hallmarks and structures.

In short, all this recent writing reads like an escapist fantasy. In it, in Frum’s own words, a president can win with “the vaguest platform” and the “most issue-free campaign” in immediate memory. It’s basically a push-button presidency, where Cruz simply… wins because the Democrats are divided, the electorate is more White, and US voters aren’t swayed by arguments for economic equality. The imagined world that Frum seems to deeply want is one where Republicans win because why not. It’s important to realize how unrealistic that is, however, and how rooted that is in view what were actually historical exceptions (like the 1984 presidential election) as the norm.

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Tactics Alone

TW: heterosexism, cissexism

Alex Pareene had a very interesting piece up on Salon on Monday about how all the talk about a GOP civil war is often getting the nature of the argument wrong. As he put it:

There is still one party that is very committed to rolling back environmental and other regulations, preventing meaningful financial reform, and, most important, keeping taxes as low as possible on very wealthy people and corporations. The Tea Party is not opposed to any of those things. […] “The business community” wants the Republican Party to be competitive in national races — they’re also fine with the Republicans’ trying to win elections through gerrymandering and voter suppression — while “the Tea Party” prioritizes purity over electability. (In fact, most of them don’t see conservative purity as any sort of obstacle to electability, but they are wrong.) The backlash to Ted Cruz and the House “suicide caucus” was mainly a reaction to tactics, not a blow-up over policy.

Conservatives simply differed over the best way to force Democrats into accepting the roll-back of the Affordable Care Act and/or a tax-cutting, social insurance-cutting long-term budget deal. Plenty of “establishment” Republicans still believe it is perfectly appropriate to use the debt ceiling, and the implicit threat of default, to extract policy concessions. Where Republicans split was on the wisdom of actually shutting the government down or merely threatening to, and on what precisely to demand in exchange for reopening the government. Grover Norquist attacked Ted Cruz for demanding the unachievable, but he doesn’t actually oppose defunding Obamacare. He just thought Paul Ryan had a better strategy for actually winning concessions.

In short, they’re not ideologically opposed (or if so, it’s in very minimal ways), but simply using different playbooks. Unluckily for them, their tactics are increasingly incompatible, if not gummed up by unmoored-from-reality expectations by Tea Party “strategists”. Viewed that way, the conflict is all too real, but in reality not between groups that old different sets of beliefs but groups with different understandings of how those beliefs appear to the larger society. The establishment understands the tactical need to dress up hostility and their interest in reestablishing or maintaining traditional power imbalances as something less offensive to a growing majority of US residents. The Tea Party has either failed to clue in, or refuses to.

(I mean, as if signs like this didn’t already clue us into that, from here.)

Another news item this week shows how true this is, that the real difference between main “radical” Tea Party Republicans and “moderate” Establishment GOP operatives is purely in presentation and not in substance. I’m talking of course about Chris Christie’s decision not to appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court for a stay on same-gender marriages being recognized. As the New York Times reported

Mr. Christie’s advisers said it became clear late on Friday that the fight had to end after the State Supreme Court announced it would not grant the governor’s request to block same-sex marriages while he appealed. Not only did the court decision say that his appeal had no “reasonable probability of success,” it was also unanimous — signed by the justices Mr. Christie has long warred against and by the one he considered on “his” side, Justice Anne M. Patterson. The governor concluded that, legally, he was out of arguments, and that it would be what one aide called a “fool’s errand” to continue in the face of almost certain failure.

In short, Christie’s decision not to block one small advancement of equal rights and protections for queer and trans* people was not motivated out of wanting those people to be respected, wanting them to have equal means to protect themselves and their families, or even out of wanting to capitalize on a popular position. It was about calculating how to minimize damage.

He initially wanted to delay queer and trans* New Jersey residents’ ability to have their marriages recognized, as a means of reducing the state policy from immediate disagreement with him and his fellow conservatives to something less abrupt. When that tactic was shown to be highly unlikely to work, he rethought his strategy, and concluded that all he could hope for was to appear unaffected by it – and hence he attempted to quietly avoid an appeal. In a phrase, he decided to try and “save face”.

New Jerseyans who are queer, trans*, LGBT, or whatever labels we want to use need to understand and remember this moment. This is not a Republican Party that’s becoming more moderate and more willing to allow us to live as we want to. This is a political party with one faction that is smart enough to recognize the need to disguise or obscure their refusal to do that. If you vote to re-elect Chris Christie as governor, you are not supporting candidates who support you, but those that are capable of appearing to do so.

Christie has come under criticism from the virulently heterosexist National Organization for Marriage (NOM) for deciding not to appeal any further, but that’s not because they actually disagree on the political question of what queer and trans* people’s rights should be, but rather what they should do about those shared beliefs.

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Object permanence, how does it work?

If anyone tells you in the next few months that MSNBC is a den of liberal vipers, show them this clip. Sure, many of it’s commentators are opposed to virulent conservatism, but they love the idea of the Republicans being just a hair less extreme. The politicians championed last night were former Senator Richard Lugar, who at many points has supported assault weapons bans, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, because he’s currently calling for Republicans to act like adults. Never mind if Lugar was once known as Richard Nixon’s favorite mayor, and only began to show skepticism against against the Iraq War in 2007, right on schedule with other proclaimed moderates like Senator Chuck Hagel. Never mind if Bobby Jindal pushed soft creationism. They’re moderates! Why? Because someone said so!

(This is an often overlooked part of the theory of the Overton Window – that by calling the proponents of ideas moderate, do we in some sense “make” them and their ideas moderate?)

In fact, Ezra’s willing to cede the title of moderate to Representative Paul Ryan of all people, since he’s willing to back down some of the time on the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling if the deals are far enough to the right. Again, we’re apparently going to sweep the whole effectively-illegalizing-abortion-and-fertility-procedures thing under the rug, even if that was going on at the same time. Ezra admits almost ten minutes into the segment that maybe this is primarily rhetorical and so the quiet overturning of established principles by “moderate” Republicans is more perceived as different from the Tea Party than actually is different.

So, thanks Klein for admitting that this entire discussion is effectively meaningless, but that doesn’t exactly undo the damage of labeling Ryan, Lugar, and Jindal moderates because they say so. That’s precisely the problem actually – there exists a pretty intense effort to make that argument, that conservative politics, as long as they’re not in actual Klansmen hoods, are moderate because that “feels” accurate.

How many times more do we have to go through discovering that those “moderate”, “sensible” Republicans are actually pretty extreme? We’ve gone through people being shocked that Midwestern Republican Governor after Midwestern Republican Governor (and so on) has tried to shut down unions, especially public sector ones. And in the cases where it’s truly undeniable, we’ve simply ignored that present radicals used to be called moderates. And the residual moderate status of politicians like Senator McCain and new moderate status of Jindal, Lugar, and perhaps even Ryan makes Ezra Klein’s skepticism towards an increasingly nonsensical stock conservatism into virulent liberalism in comparison. With one motion, to be even a centrist progressive becomes a radical perspective and to rewrite the country’s legal definition of person as beginning at conception is an almost moderate stance.

Every once in a while, some one says something unhinged enough that you might realize that this isn’t moderate. But will we actually put together what it means when that’s happened with almost every prominent conservative? How many times do we have to be fooled before we’re ashamed…

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How do you have a civil war if you’re almost all on the same side?

There’s an interesting opinion piece by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times about the Republican Party’s current tribulations that’s been making the rounds over the past couple of days. It covers quite a few different issues, but it’s clearest points seem to be that the marketing subcontractors affiliated with the party are paid independently of their results and that the party’s base is divided between a mob of social conservatives resistant to any social change and a significant but smaller group of free market powerhouses. Sadly for Edsall, neither of these are particularly radical or new ideas. One trend of 2012 was the steadily growing obviousness of racketeering within the conservative movement and its chronic inability to hire the right people to send out its messages. Likewise, many others have been talking about a Republican “civil war” between a base that demands a loyalty to social policies that are politically toxic in general elections (particularly when the policies restrict women’s rights) and the smaller faction of moneyed interests within the party.

The idea that Republicans have potential allies who align with one of those blocs but not the other and they just have to figure out some new way of reaching out to them correctly seems pretty suspect when you actually look at how many conservatives analyze their own politics. They don’t view there as being a choice between support for economic policies that produce systemic class inequalities and support for a likely religiously-informed social conservatism. To them, those are the left and right hands of their politics – why bother lopping off one or the other? There are, of course, those who go even further and seem to view them as not only overlapping belief systems, but mutually supporting ones. For many modern conservatives, breaking with any part of that perceived socio-economic policy package is a breaking of a whole. It likely doesn’t matter to those people that they’ll still agree with the party when it comes to tax policy if they’re ignoring the social system surrounding the hope to install around that and other economic policies.

Beyond that sticky issue, there’s an implicit assumption that even if those present Republican voters stand by an exclusively fiscal-focused revamp of the party, there’s a significant number of other voters out there who will be enticed by the Republican message of tax cuts and ignoring growing economic disparities. That’s not even shown by the data Edsall uses in his own article:

(From Edsall’s New York Times opinion piece.)

The largest gaps between public perception of the Republican and Democratic parties are indeed over issues that are seen as primarily social in nature – the rights of women, queer, and genderqueer people. But the other major gaps all concern issues obviously concerning economic policy: assistance to the poor and tax policy. The issues on which Democrats have little lead or still trail Republicans in public perception are a mixed bag of social policies (firearms regulation), economic policies (handling the financial and energy industries), and ones that are a bit of both (immigration). The Democrats might have more strength on social issues, but the perception of them as ideologically more mainstream has both economic and social dimensions.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems easier to find myriad faults with this specific prediction of a coming Republican ‘civil war’ than to see its development.

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