Sunday, February 15, 2009

The "Specter" of Bipartisanship

Though it received little media attention, Senator Arlen Specter revealed a major conundrum facing the GOP. After voting for the Economic Stimulus Bill, Senator Specter Remarked:

"When I came back to the cloak room after coming to the agreement a week ago today, one of my colleagues said, 'Arlen, I'm proud of you.' I said, 'Are you going to vote with me?' And he said, 'No, I might have a primary.' And I said, 'Well, you know very well I'm going to have a primary."

"I think there are a lot of people in the Republican caucus who are glad to see this action taken without their fingerprints, without their participation," he said.When asked the number of Republican Senators who held that sentiment he replied,
"I think a sizable number, I think a good part of the caucus agrees with the person I quoted, but I wouldn't want to begin to speculate on numbers."

The issue of a primary was first and foremost on the minds of Specter's Republican peers. They feared that they would anger the base and risk losing their cherished Senate seats to more conservative challengers in the primaries. This is of special concern now because the bulk of the Republicans in Congress are from extremely conservative districts. The appearance of caving in to the Democrats would be politically fatal to an Alabama of South Carolina GOP Senator.

Specter's cloak room conversation makes it pretty clear that a sizable number of GOP Senators are not, as they assert, ideologically opposed to this Bill. They simply value keeping their Senate seat over working to save the ailing U.S. economy.

This episode also reveals the depth of the problems faced by today's GOP. The Republicans in Congress are being controlled by the Party's right wing. To make matters worse, it's the right wing at the bottom of the Party as opposed to the right wing at the top. During the Bush Administration, the neocons and the wealthiest 1% controlled the Party via the White house. When the Party fell into disarray after the 2008 election cycle, the core of power fell from the top the the bottom. The sudden power vacuum created an environment in which the hapless base inadvertently seized power. Their unity around social issues and collective view of Democrats as an outgroup made them the only element in the Party with any semblance of continuity.

During the Bush Administration party elites, with Karl Rove as their enforcer, ruled GOP members of Congress with iron fists. Congressional decisions were made collectively based on the fear of retribution from above. Now, as indicated by Senator Specter's comments, the situation has been reversed. GOP members of Congress are now forced to consider the effects of angering the unified voting base before making political decisions. Inspired by powerful right wing media personalities such as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, the myopic republican base is demanding strict adherence to right wing philosophies. Though likely aware of the long term consequences, GOP members in Congress are bound to satisfy the base or be replaced by someone who will.

The issue of bipartisan governance is being decided by a shrinking group of White Southern Protestant Evangelicals oblivious to the social revolution that has taken place around them.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The New GOP

The GOP of 2009 is quite different than the Party we have become accustomed to over the last decade or so. As odd as it may seem, today's Republican Party is a highly concentrated form of the 2000 through 2004 Gang that brought us Iraq, a trillion dollar deficit, and Freedom Fries. While the Democrats were trouncing the Republicans in both 2006 and 2008, few seemed to notice that the Republicans who were ousted were those who made up the moderate voice of the GOP. Those Republicans who were in districts with an ideologically diverse constituency were nearly all replaced when the Country began trending blue. As the GOP loses it's moderate voice it becomes more conservative which ultimately drives away the remaining moderates and guess what, the Party becomes even more conservative. A political trend which, if it continues, will ultimately leave a small, angry, and powerless group of White Protestant Southerners commiserating about how the minorities, Yankees, and Hippies are bringing this country to ruin.

The 2009 GOP is made up of mostly Southern and Western hard core right wingers who answer to bright red districts. Regardless of the ideological moderation which seems to have blanketed America, their home town voters are the true believers. The Sarah Palin supporters who spent the general election convinced that Barack Obama was a Muslim who sat in a Church for 20 years listening to a radical Christian preacher.

President Obama began his Presidency attempting to cross Party lines to compromise, and maybe even synergize, with his opposition. He quickly found out that the crew he faces now will not be bargained with. They will fight him on every issue and put the future at risk to win a battle against him today. The recent appearances of Jim Imhoff and Lindsey Graham spitting anger and venom on MSNBC painted a grim picture for those hoping for bi-partisan governance.

President Obama will need to consolidate power within his own Party in order to push through many of the initiatives he proposed during his Campaign. The dozen or so Democrats who opposed the stimulus bill in the house must be brought back in line, and it may be necessary to unleash Rahm Emanuel to get the job done.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Big Bet

The GOP has decided to wager their future on the hope that the economy continues to crumble and ultimately crashes. Their unanimous opposition to the economic stimulus bill points to a near sinister approach to regaining power. They intend to vigorously oppose the stimulus package, then tout that opposition in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles when the country is still in dire economic straights. It's a perverse version of the politics of hope. The Party is wagering it's future on the hope that the downward economic trend can't be reversed, at least not until after 2012.

Their thinly veiled strategy is quite obvious. If they expected and favored economic recovery they would simply oppose the bill, then split their votes on the House and Senate floors. The bill would get passed and they would have the dual luxury of claiming credit if things got better, or playing the "I told you so" card if it did not. It's not logical that the GOP would oppose the bill, then hope the Country recovers? No Doubt, in 2010 a strong well financed Democratic Party would flood the airwaves with adds showing the GOP opposition to the stimulus bill that "saved the economy" without a single Republican vote.

The GOP has bet everything on economic disaster. They are well aware that they will never stop this bill, but they want to make a loud point of opposing it. It appears that after losing 56 seats in the last two election cycles, they decided to go for it. They'll be clasping their hands together praying that the economy does not begin to come back before they can capitolize on the fallout.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Tax Cuts to the End

When the Republican Party gained full power in 2000 they fully implemented the tax cut agenda as a rallying cry. The first order of business was to demonstrate the power of their long held position that cutting taxes was a political and economic fix for all problems. When the economy was strong and there was a significant budget surplus, the Republican answer was to cut taxes and give money back to the people who earned it. When the Country was militarily engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Republican answer was to cut taxes for reasons which have never been explained to any reasonable degree. When the economy began to fade, once again the Republican answer was to cut taxes to stimulate the economy.

After eight years of cutting taxes and watching the economy crumble, it comes as no surprise that the Republican Party is fighting the current stimulus bill because it does not have enough tax cuts for their liking. It is increasingly obvious that the GOP has little else to fight with. The constant demand for tax cuts is little more than a rallying cry to excite the base and obstruct the Democrats. Tax cuts have been proposed to stimulate the economy during fiscal difficulties, and boost the economy even more during periods of fiscal growth.

The Republican Party is struggling to find an answer to a problem which they don't understand. Massive domestic and foreign policy failures has enlightened the electorate to the politics of perception. Soundbites, rallying cries, and other tools which work to create perceptions and raise age old fears have little effect on people with serious real world problems.

I have little doubt that the Republican Party will continue their call for more tax cuts to save the economy, bring peace, and cure such ailments as arthritis and gout. However, after each election cycle there seems to be fewer of them in Congress to make that argument. At this rate, by 2013 you will need a history book to find a Republican in Washington. The Party of tax cuts seems doggedly determined to turn America into a one party State....with low taxes.