Democrats


In the week since the No Labels roll out in New York City, there has been no shortage of critics.  That’s being interpreted by most of us involved in the movement as being a good thing.  No Labels is obviously ruffling a few feathers in both ideological extremes.

I’ve already commented upon the critique by Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. in my blog posting of December 16 entitled Finding a Home in the Political Center.  His piece was entitled Where the ‘No Labels’ movement falls short.

Also weighing in from the left, from last weekend in the New York Times, was Frank Rich in an Op-ed entitled The Bipartisanship Racket.

On the right, perspectives were offered by both Rush Limbaugh on his radio show and George F. Will in an Op-ed in the Washington Post entitled The Political Fantasyland of the ‘No Labels’ movement.  It is clear that No Labels has managed to push a few buttons.  I’m glad we are.

The extremes don’t really believe we have a “dysfunctional” government in America.  Each side is only too pleased to be engaged in rugged combat with their opposite ideological enemy, firmly convinced that they are right and that their side will ultimately prevail.  It’s nonsense of course.  In the meantime, serious crises facing the country go unaddressed and Americans lose faith in their government by the day.  This can’t continue.

While No Labels may not in the end solve anything, I think we owe it a chance to work – to change the game enough to break the current deadlock.  If No Labels can indeed mobilize the “silent majority” to actively involve itself in the next few election cycles, there is every reason to believe we can halt the trend toward hyper-partisanship in both parties.  Time will tell, of course.  Count me among those that are willing to make this effort.  We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

In an Op-ed in today’s Washington Post entitled Where the ‘No Labels’ movement falls short, columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. argues that the left isn’t nearly as distant from the center of the political spectrum as is the right.  Observing that there were few Republicans in attendance he concludes that “No Labelers can yet be a constructive force if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.”

As a distinctly left-leaning Democrat, it is not surprising that Mr. Dionne perceives the gap between the center and the left of the Democratic Party to be minimal and gap between the center and the Republican right to be enormous.  He is right that there were few apparent conservative Republicans in attendance.  I didn’t meet any personally while I did meet a number of self-described liberals.  Additionally the Republicans in attendance, such as myself, were almost uniformly moderate Republicans.  I will also concede that there do seem to be more moderate Democrats in America these days than moderate Republicans and more of them were in attendance on Monday.

From my personal perspective, however, in the center right of the spectrum, there is still exits a considerable gap between where I stand politically and both the Democratic left and the Republican right.  I’d be just as conflicted as a moderate Democrat as I am today as a moderate Republican as I find a Henry Waxman every bit as objectionable as I do a Jim DeMint.

This traces without doubt to my political roots.  I was a Democrat as a kid — I was very much a fan of Lyndon Johnson and I was appalled by Barry Goldwater.  I remember at the age of 10 begging my parents to take me to a Republican headquarters where I could guiltily pick up a Goldwater bumper sticker and cut it up so as to create a new bumper sticker that read “Old Wet Rag”.  My disillusionment with the Democratic Party began with the ascension of the left of the party, including  Robert Kennedy and Ed Muskie.  The nomination of George McGovern in 1972 was the final straw for me and I registered as a Republican in 1972 and voted for Richard Nixon.  An activist even then, I became the “Young Voters for the President” Chairman on the campus of Trinity University in San Antonio that year.  I have never since been able to trust the Democratic Party and I remain highly distrustful of the Democratic Party’s extraordinarily influential and left-leaning activist groups (labor, peace, and environmental to name a few).

The fact is that I don’t believe I’ve shifted a great deal politically in my life time.  I was then and am still in the relative center of the spectrum.  As the Republican Party began its shift to the right with Ronald Reagan, I have had a harder and harder time remaining a Republican.  And yes, in many ways I suppose I am a classic Republican In Name Only (RINO), still hoping that sanity will prevail and that the pragmatically conservative Republican Party that I first joined will re-emerge.

In the meantime, I have to find a home in the center and today No Labels is offering me just such a home.  As I expressed in my blog post on Tuesday, it was so refreshing on Monday at the No Labels kickoff to be surrounded by people who thought almost exactly as I did.

And so Mr. Dionne, however you care to label it, No Labels can be a place where centrists can come together to discuss reasonable solutions in the middle of the spectrum and effectively work to support candidates who are willing to craft solutions as unpopular with the far left as the far right.

The time for repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) has long since come — although it remains unclear whether Republicans realize it or not.  I note the vote in the U.S House of Representatives yesterday was 250-175 in favor.  I sadly note that only 15 Republicans voted yes and that 15 Democrats voted no.
When the Defense Secretary and almost all senior generals say “we need this done legislatively and not by the courts” it would appear to give Republicans the opening they need to do what’s best for the military, even if they don’t like it.  For them to say no now seems to be saying that they’re more concerned with politics than with the effect of having gays serve in the military.
As for John McCain, he’s completely abdicated his “responsible independent” status.  And in case anyone missed it, Sam Nunn announced last week that he is in favor of repeal.  He was the Democrat Chairman of the Armed Services Committee during the enactment of DADT who supported DADT to the consternation of many fellow Democrats and most of the GLBT community.  He also became with that move someone for whom so many of us in the GLBT community have continued to harbor animosity since.  When I own a stock in which he’s on the board, I always vote against him.  (I also learned this week that another friend, whom I knew from our former work together in Log Cabin Republicans, has been doing the same.)  Now I am free to vote for him again.  He’s redeemed at last.  Let’s hope the Senate will join the House in redeeming itself this week as well.  It is the right thing to do.
For the record here are the fourteen Republicans who made the correct vote yesterday.  Sadly, several won’t be back next year.  I put them on my list of rational Republicans:
Judy Biggert (IL), Mary Bono Mack (CA), John Campbell (CA), Anh Cao (LA), Michael Castle (DE), Charles Dent (PA), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL), Charles Djou (HI), David Dreier (CA), Vernon Ehlers (MI), Jeff Flake (AZ), Ronald Paul (TX), Todd Platts (PA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL) and Dave Reichert (WA).

The Washington Post this morning analyzed the results of new Washington Post/ABC News Poll in a story entitled In poll, many still skeptical of GOP.  The story was authored by Dan Balz and Jon Cohen.

I cite the poll and story this morning in part as they are generally supportive of some of the statements made in my recent posting Nonsense from the Left.  The results are generally supportive of my contention that the 2010 election was a vote against the party in power and that Republicans would be unwise to regard the vote as a broad mandate for their conservative agenda.  The poll would also suggest that voters expect Republicans to compromise.

The poll was conducted since the President’s compromise with Republicans on taxes.  It shows little erosion of President Obama’s support among Liberal Democrats (now at 87%) and it shows the electorate apparently still trusts Obama more than it trusts Congressional Republicans on his/their ability to handle the main problems the nation faces (43%-38%).  At 43% President Obama also comes in higher than George Bush in 2006 (31%) and Bill Clinton in 1994 (34%) following similar mid-term electoral defeats.

I attended the No Labels kickoff yesterday in New York City.  Stories on the event can be found in both the Washington Post (here and here) and the New York Times – the NY Times piece is more of a story on conference participant Michael Bloomberg.

It is hard to express how great the experience was for me.  The crowd was enthusiastic and the speakers almost uniformly excellent.  It was also gratifying to again be around people again with whom I felt I was in sync.  Although I’m still a registered Republican, most Republicans that I meet are far more conservative than I am.  That means that in a group of Republicans I often don’t feel very “at home” for while I agree with the Republican Party on many issues, I am finding it harder and harder to agree with the party a host of others.  I also have particular problems with the party’s apparent 2+ year “no compromise” strategy.  No compromise = Dysfunctional government.  As a country we must agree to talk and compromise.  It is the only way forward.

In the coming days, I hope I can provide links to the remarks of several of yesterday’s speakers, including New York Times columnist David Brooks. Congressmen Bob Inglis’ remarks were also especially relevant and poignant as were those of Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, NJ.  Additionally, the panel discussion led by Mika Brzezinski was particularly good.  The panel included Joe Scarborough, Senator Evan Bayh, Senator Joe Manchin and David Gergen.

In closing, let me repeat the comments that I made today to a Washington Post story entitled Can ‘No Labels’ change the tone in Washington?:

I am writing this from New York City where I yesterday attended the No Labels kickoff as a “Citizen Leader”. I have lived in Washington DC since 1987. In my 23 years in Washington I have seen the political system cease to work. I have also seen my Republican Party drift further and further to the right and the Democratic Party remain largely under the control of its liberal wing and its host of special interest groups. Neither side is is willing to compromise and the last three elections have shown an electorate punishing the party in control, yet the two parties continue to miss the point.

No Labels as a collection of mostly moderate Democrats, Republicans and Independents can change the game by applying pressure from the center of the spectrum, mostly in influencing primary elections but also in mobilizing support for candidates who take courageous stands. We can also influence redistricting processes in the states, which has the potential to enormously impact the ability of both parties to maintain their duopoly.

I will be actively involved with No Labels in Washington DC, starting with hosting a Meet Up on January 4. DC area voters interested in learning more and go to meetup.com/no labels for more information.

Please join our movement to move the country not left or right, but forward. Help end the hyper-partisan dysfunction.

An Op-ed in today’s Washington Post offers an example of a mis-guided argument that predictably emanates from the extremes of the partisan spectrum following an election, usually from the party and extreme ideology that has suffered  a big loss.  Today’s example is offered by Michael Lerner in a piece entitled Save Obama’s presidency by challenging him on the left.  Mr. Lerner argues that Obama’s problem is that he hasn’t been “progressive” enough and that it may be necessary to have a Democratic primary challenger from the left in order to force Obama to the left in order to win in 2012.  To those of us in the center of the spectrum, this is utter nonsense.

I’ve rarely witnessed a more clear voter rejection of a party in power, and an ideology, than what occurred in the U.S. in November.  Democrats got shellacked because they were perceived by the electorate as taking the country too far left — in the direction of higher taxes and more government.  That clearly isn’t popular in this country.  Notice I said perceived.  The Republicans did a very good job of painting President Obama and the Democrats into this corner, often inaccurately, but the party itself and its progressive wing aided and abetted.  Nancy Pelosi, Queen of the California’s extremely liberal congressional delegation, was the perfectly wrong choice to be the face of the party.  She is ‘nails on a chalkboard’ to much of America.  In addition, Democrats have puzzled over why the business community and independents supported Republicans as strongly as they did in the election.   Much of the standard Democrat election rhetoric is about class struggle, the little guy against the evil corporate behemoth.  That may sit well with the base of the Democratic Party, but it doesn’t sit well with the majority of Americans.  No, what President Obama and the Democrats need to do for the next two years is appear to the American electorate as the rational, sane and relatively centrist alternative to Republican ideological excess. Democrats’ clearest path to control and the re-election of President Obama is moderation — a la Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, both of whom were also constrained by Congresses not in their control and each of whom were re-elected handily.

Republicans, on the other hand, are making a great mistake in their apparent conclusion that it was their conservative ideology that won them election in November.  The reason the electorate voted for them in November was because they weren’t Democrats – they were the “other”, the alternative party.  This was exactly the reason that Democrats, including Obama, won in 2008 — because they were the “other”, the alternative option to George Bush and the Republicans.  These last two elections haven’t been about the electorate supporting a party so much as completely repudiating the party in power.

Thus, the last thing Democrats need to do is up the stakes and offer the electorate a clear picture of a party controlled by left wing ideologues.  Let Republicans hang themselves on their own petard — by viewing that it was their ideology that won them this last election.  The party that grabs the center, that demonstrates to America that it is willing to compromise and to find rational solutions in the middle will be the choice of an electorate that can once again be expected to vote to reject an ideological extreme.

It is my view that 2012 is shaping up as an election that Democrats should win, but it is distinctly losable.  Just consult with Mr. Lerner.  He has the strategy for losing all figured out.

I penned a piece on this blog last week entitled Some Advice for Democrats wherein I criticized the election of Nancy Pelosi as Minority Leader in the House.  It seems, however, that most liberals are clueless as to just how offensive Nancy Pelosi became to most of America.  Having her, again, as the House Democrats’ key spokesperson is like nails on a chalkboard to a vast portion, and apparently a majority, of the American electorate.  Why?

To answer this inquiry I go no farther than a blog posting from this website dated September 29, 2008.  It is entitled Speaker Pelosi Didn’t Help Today.  It contains an embedded video link of the Speaker’s remarks during the TARP debate.  It says all that needs to be said on the matter.  This is not the diplomat the Democrats need to counter their Republican opposition.  As Sarah Palin might say to House Democrats, let’s just see how this works for ya.

It seems as good a time as any to reflect briefly on the recent election and the myths that have developed as to the reasons for the Democrats’ “shellacking”.

Among Democrats of the liberal variety, I’m seeing all too many who fault the President and Democrats for not going far enough:  there should have been a larger stimulus; we shouldn’t have compromised on health care; and “cap and trade” was the right thing to do.  And yes, Nancy Pelosi was brilliant and did nothing wrong.

I personally believe that the public was never overwhelmingly against any of these three major Democratic initiatives.   With the exception of cap and trade, which was always in my opinion the coward’s way out and not the best means to address climate change, the other two initiatives were necessary.  However, both of these necessary initiatives, stimulus and health care reform, were very poorly executed and that poor execution left a sour taste with people – a sour taste that was remembered on election day.  The public was simply exhausted and disgusted by the never-ending debate of a health care bill where no one, least not the President, seemed in charge.  As for the stimulus, I think people remembered how blatantly the Democratic congressional leadership administered favors to political constituencies rather than just executing a bill that got the biggest bang for the buck.

More simply put, the process destroyed the products.  Yet my fundamental point is that the electorate’s massive negative reaction in just-concluded election was not about any one of the above things.  It was, however, about a cumulative impression of one-party dominated processes that involved some really ugly sausage making.  That in turn left a cumulative impression with much of the electorate that the country was left with legislation that nobody understood, cost a whole lot of money, and massively increased the role of government in our lives.  And, perhaps most importantly, the economy still sucked.

In the midst of gigantic collective anxiety about the economy, the perception of a massive government expansion as being the cure for what ailed the country did not work.  In fact it raised the reddest of flags to an insecure nation, an insecure “center-right” nation.

So what it appears that Democrats intend to do to remedy things in the next Congress is to entrust the party’s message going forward to none other than the folks who so badly bungled things in the last two years:  Obama, Pelosi and Reed.  I think this a huge mistake for Democrats.  A softer and more “centrist” face would be much more effective in opposing the almost certain Republican-dominated policy folly that’s coming — that folly being the ultra conservative notion that by shrinking the government and lowering taxes we can solve all of the country’s problems.  We can’t.  Yet with the Democrat’s proposed messengers, the debate will polarize into  “More Government” versus “No Government”.  This is so unnecessary.   While I see no signs that Republicans will amend their “no government message, the Democrats can still alter their message, but they will need new messengers in the both the House and Senate to accomplish this.

I can only hope Democrats in Congress will yet decide that new leadership is required in the next Congress.   Let Democrats lose the fallacious belief that party hasn’t been liberal enough.  The party needs to recognize that America isn’t ready for a European-style social democracy.  So go ahead and pursue “liberal” policies – that is the essence of the Democratic Party — but do so incrementally.   And for now, occupy the center ground that’s been abandoned by the Republicans.

In closing let me observe that while each party is right to try to move the country in the direction it thinks the country should go, the problem arises when either party becomes too impatient and wants to change the status quo overnight.  American’s don’t like radical change and will resist what they perceive efforts to legislate such radical change (the November elections).  The solution is a slow but steady movement firmly rooted in the “center” ground.  I’m convinced it would be a winning strategy for any party that chooses to adopt it.  Given that Republicans appear to believe that they now have a mandate for radical change, the obvious path for Democrats is to learn from the last two years and adopt a more moderate path – a path that recognizes its priorities but also one that can resonate with a centrist America.

There is a must-read opinion column in the Washington Post this morning by Robert J. Samuelson.  It’s entitled The Bias Against Oil and Gas.  It is spot-on.

Energy is critical to the healthy functioning of the U.S. economy.  It is, therefore, a crucially important issue for President Obama to get right–to address in a rational manner.  The point here is that Obama’s “bias” against oil and natural gas will have consequences.  These consequences include failure of his “energy policy” and quite possibly failure of his economic policy upon which so much, even rhetorically, rides on the over-estimated potential of renewable energy.  Worse yet, it means that Republicans may be handed an issue, when oil prices once again soar (and oil prices will again soar, trust me), that gets them re-elected before they deserve to be.  The loser will be the country.

The point here, and I am certain the prime motivation behind Mr. Samuelson penning the piece he did, is that there is time to correct course.  There is still time to get it right.

There are a couple of reasons in particular why someone as brilliant as Mr. Obama has gotten this issue so terribly wrong.   One, and at the top of my list, is that our president doesn’t really understand energy policy.  This is understandable.  Although Illinois is an oil and natural gas producing state, it is not Texas.  While once a significant producer, Illinois’ production has declined and oil’s economic significance to the state is limited.  Additionally, spending a career in Chicago and so little time as a Senator representing the entire state, President Obama has had little opportunity to be educated.  Thus he, like most Americans, has learned about energy not by first hand experience but by what he’s been informed about energy, and particularly about oil and natural gas, by popular culture.  Popular culture tells us that oil is dirty and is bad for people and the planet and the way to move ahead is to not drill any more dirty oil wells.  It tells us that solar and wind are clean and abundant and we must only try harder and that will be our future.  As nice as this sounds, however, it is myth.

Another reason Obama has this wrong is alluded to in Mr. Samuelson’s column.  It is the power of the environmental groups and the fact, quoting Mr. Samuelson that “[t]o many environmentalists, expanding fossil fuel production is a cardinal sin.”  Given that environmental groups are an important contituency of the Democratic Party, Democrats are loathe to challenge its orthodoxy.  Yet a rational energy and economic policy demands a overt challenge.  Unless challenged it will lead the country down a path that does not lead to energy self-sufficiency.  It will lead to even more oil imports in the years ahead.

Expanding domestic oil production is not inconsistent with our country’s, and the world’s need, to limit the burning of fossil fuels in the years ahead.  That need is properly addressed through legislation that will begin to put a cost on the burning of fossil fuels so as to discourage its use.  In the meantime, the goal of this country needs to be moving as much production as it feasibly can back to this country.  We must never lose sight that every barrel not produced at home will otherwise have to be imported.  And every barrel of oil imported amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs going overseas.

Energy and economic policy will only work if built on a rational foundation.  It is time to re-lay the footings and begin to construct an energy policy that has architectural grounding.   

 

In a follow-on to yesterday’s posting, there are two additional pieces today, both in the New York Times, that address the Republican Party’s identity crisis.  The first is a front page article, above the fold, by Adam Nagourney and David M. Herszenhorn entitled G.O.P. Debate: A Broader Party or a Purer One? The other is on Op-ed by former Governor (and EPA Administrator) Christine Todd Whitman entitled It’s Still My Party.

I am convinced the Republican Party’s only path forward is to become a party that can not only tolerate a variety of perspectives, but can accommodate those perspectives in its platform and in the way it governs.  Frankly, I don’t see this happening for a while.

My history as a Republican goes back 37 years.  Although I’d always identified as a child as a Democrat, I was a Scoop Jackson or moderate Democrat, at least on defense issues.  When the party rejected Scoop Jackson for the presidential nomination in 1972 and nominated George McGovern, my path forward was clear.  I was able to comfortably remain a Republican up through the George W. Bush’s first term, although the Reagan ascendancy was a mighty challenge.  When the conservatives began to exert control of the party in 1976 when Reagan challenged President Ford for the Republican nomination, I first witnessed the ‘purist’ wing of the party in action.  At my local ward meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I saw the purists in action for the first time as they showed up in droves and defeated the Ford slate.  At the state party convention the purists would later deny slots on the state’s delegation to the national convention to New Mexico’s sitting Republican Congressmen and Senator, who had all supported Gerald Ford.  Four years later I held my nose and voted for Reagan and, to my surprise, I did come to regret that decision.  I even served as an Reagan alternate delegate from New Mexico to the 1984 GOP convention.  What was notable was that although I was viewed then within the delegation as a “moderate”, that was still apparently OK.  It isn’t today in most places.

In her Op-ed Christine Todd Whitman argues that it’s important that “moderates to stay [in the party] and work from within. One thing we can be sure of is that we will have no impact on the party’s direction if we leave.”  She goes on to observe that “[t]o the extent we lose more members of the Republican Party, we lose what ability we have left to affect policy, and that is going to be devastating to our nation. Our democracy desperately needs two vibrant parties.”

Although I may not change my party registration, I am functionally an Independent these days, for the party has left me and the things it once stood for.  It has become something else with which I rarely identify.  At this juncture I am also tired of doing battle with the purists.  I am of the mind that the only way the purists are going to learn their lesson is the hard way in a succession of devastating losses.  Either that, or, the purist Republican Party needs to be isolated with the formation of a new political party in the center.  I agree with Christine Todd Whitman that it will be devastating for the country to have one-party rule.  But that doesn’t mean that second party needs to be the Republican Party.  Let’s get a third party in the mix that can draw moderate Democrats and Republicans and challenge both the left and the right of the political spectrum.  Let the Republican Party stay pure and let’s give the Democratic Party to Nancy Pelosi and her friends on the left.  Let the rest of us join and belong to a brand new party.

That would be my choice, although it’s been pretty clear to me since I started this ‘centrist’ blog, that there been no groundswell of people who agree with me.  Certainly moderate Democrats are not disaffected at present with a capable President who’s steering a relatively moderate course.  And Independents seem to like the middle ground and the ability to move back and forth as they see fit.

So for now I must just watch the show from the sidelines, the show being the Republican Party’s process of trying to make itself relevant again.  What I know is that I have no intention of being part of the process.  I’m tired of tilting at windmills.

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