November 2010

Paul Krogman in an Op-Ed in the New York Times today entitled There Will Be Blood echoes sentiments I’ve been expressing on this weblog for the last few weeks.  We are in trouble if the Republican Party keeps true to its promises.  Deep trouble.

This piece today by Mr. Krogman, someone with whom I’ve often disagreed, is spot on.

In a story today in the Daily Caller, Alex Pappis reports on a conversation he had with Matt Kibbe, a key operative in the FreedomWorks organization that was an important supporter of tea party candidates in 2010.  Needless to say tea party conservatives aren’t very pleased with the apparent write-in victory of Lisa Murkowski in Alaska.  Here’s an excerpt from the Daily Caller story:

If Murkowski wins, Kibbe suggested that Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and the Republican leadership should find a way to punish her, perhaps through committee assignments, “for splitting the team in half” and running as an independent. Her decision to run as an independent is a dangerous precedent, Kibbe suggested, that could lead to Democratic victories in the future.

“If he doesn’t do that,” Kibbe said, “it strikes me that he’s sending a signal to Tea Partiers in 2012 that if they don’t like the results in the primaries, they might as well just run as an independent or Tea Party candidate.”

Kibbe often makes the argument that “it doesn’t make any sense to go third party because third party loses,” [sic] and the more practical way for Tea Party activists to get involved is through a “take over” of the GOP.

Let me respond to each paragraph above in turn:

1.  Great.  Punish Senator Murkowski and push her more firmly into the independent camp.  I’d like that — it’s where she needs to be anyway and it will just make it easier for her.  Also, since when have true-blue conservatives cared whether Democrats win elections when the Republican candidate is an infidel (moderate Republican).  This is exemplified by the apparently prevalent conservative belief that “we are better off electing a Democrat than a Republican such as Mike Castle as Senator from Delaware”.

2.  Great.  Please do that.  I would be delighted should hard-line conservatives leave the GOP and run as independents.  Such a move would allow the Republican Party to abandon the right and move into the “center-right” space that happens to be where most of the American electorate sits.  I could see a long string of wins for such a Republican Party at all levels of government.

3.  I have to first do a little interpolating on this paragraph.  I presume the sentiment being expressed by Mr. Kibbe is that since third parties usually lose, it is better for tea party conservatives to take over the Republican Party.  This is nothing new.  It is certainly what I’ve observed conservatives to have been doing for decades (1976 insurrection against moderate Gerald Ford by Reagan Republicans was my first exposure to this strategy).  I’d go so far to say the battle for the GOP is over.  The hard-line conservatives have won.  Independents need to either form a third party comprised of independents and center-right “moderate” Republicans or be willing to run as independents a la Lisa Murkowski in Alaska.  While it is clear that while write-in campaigns can prevail, it would make much more sense for centrist independents to found independent parties in their states so as to give centrist voters a choice between the left and the right.

So Mr. Kibbe, make up your mind.  Personally, I hope you all choose Option #2.  I would love to have my Republican Party back and so I think would most of the country.

In a piece posted on the Washington Post website this afternoon entitled Bailout vote that was deadly in 2010 to live on in 2012 , we learn that the vote on the Targeted Asset Relief Program (TARP) proved an almost-certain election loser for House and Senate candidates in the 2010 elections.  Although not a complete surprise, as most 2010 election observers saw this coming, it is nonetheless a tragedy.

More than any other vote in recent memory, the vote on TARP clearly defined those who were deserving of election to the House and Senate, and those who were not.  Had the irresponsible naysayers prevailed, the banking system would almost assuredly have crashed with devastating consequences for the country.  Today’s economy looks robust compared to what it would have looked like but for the successful TARP vote.

That the American electorate on one hand apparently believes that government needs to focus more attention on the economy and on the other hand believes that the TARP vote was an unnecessary corporate give-away, shows the gigantic problem we have in America with informed decision-making.  Our problem today is that apparently too few voters get their information or “news” from balanced sources, such as mainstream newspapers.  Today, the sources are all too often the over-opinionated pontificators on networks such as Fox or MSNBC.  It is impossible to make sound public policy without accurate information and we are today seeing the terrifying consequences of uninformed decision-making.  Good luck America, as it appears only luck will be able to save us from the consequences of our ignorance.

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.

Dear Senator Murkowski.

I’m writing just to let you know how proud I am of you.  Maybe pride isn’t the right word here, but you are doing what I hope I would do in the same circumstances.  You are following your own light.  You are speaking your truth.  You had the courage, as some others lacked, to stay in the fight.  And you won.  Hallelujah.

Your win is an incredible gift to a country that so needs someone who can stand, even if just a little, on the outside of the duopolistic system that’s evolved; someone who isn’t blinded by party loyalty and is thus able to see things as they are.  America isn’t predominantly right wing or left wing, but center right and center left.  And you and I both know that the solutions to most of America’s most serious problems can be found in that place, where rigid ideology can take a back seat to problem-solving.

Let’s take climate change.  You are right, of course, that there is scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is impacting the planet’s climate.  It may not be the calamity some are predicting, but then again it could be.  We just don’t know that yet.  What is clear is the activities of mankind are having an impact and something needs to be done.  I applaud you for not only recognizing this but having been willing to act.  It was a courageous and principled stand.

We both also know that, fantasies aside, the country is going to be using massive quantities of fossil fuels for decades to come.  With a balance of trade deficit as high as it is and with U.S. environmental standards in the world’s top tier, we need to be producing as much of those fossil fuels as possible here at home – oil and natural gas.  We can do it better than most countries and keep American jobs and dollars in America.  In this tough economic environment what better stimulus than putting Americans to work producing American resources.  Every barrel we don’t produce here must come from somewhere else.  We must also put an end to the delusion that hydraulic fracturing – a process critical to producing world class quantities of natural gas in this country – is a a threat to America’s water resources.  This has been a sub-myth of the myth that if we make it harder to produce fossil fuels in America it will move us to the renewable energy future faster.  We both know it won’t.  Yet we know that renewable energy future is important and is deserving of support.

In closing let me again reiterate my pride in you.  Perhaps part of this pride is that I first met you when you were a state legislator and you attended a program I was giving on the subject of “states and oil and natural gas”.  We talked and I’ve watched and been mightily impressed by your career ever since.  You have been a great Senator and I predict that now you can be an even greater Senator should you be willing to carry your hard-won independence into the U.S. Senate and speak truth to duopolistic power.  I recognize that you may need to bargain away some of that independence in order to again become Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but you should nonetheless cherish the independent mantle you’ve earned.  You can become what Senator McCain never really was but claimed to be.  The Senate and indeed America needs a true maverick voice.

I hope you can be that voice.  You will have my full support.

Kevin Bliss

Washington, DC

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.

Of a number of great Op-Eds since the election, I am posting three that I believe are particularly important to read.  They are:  David Broder’s Goals worth fighting for in the Washington Post on November 4, 2010;  Steven Pearlstein’s Leadership challenge: Take voters’ mixed messages and deal, also in the November 4 Washington Post; and Charles Blow’s The Great American Cleaving in the New York Times on November 5, 2010.

While all are important , the last two address the theme expressed in my posting on this weblog entitled Winning is Everything.  Steven Pearlstein is right that this country can’t move forward without compromise and that without it the country will suffer continuing economic decline.  That one party apparently decided two years ago to refuse to compromise believing, apparently successfully, that the tactic would enable them to retake Congress is concerning for its implications.  Convinced it’s a sound strategy for Republicans, they are likely to carry that strategy forward in the next session of Congress.  Second, this no-compromise strategy is a potential blueprint for Democrat Party strategy in the House for the next two years.

Charles Blow ends his piece with these words:  “That ripping sound you hear is the fabric of a nation.”  The author is absolutely right.  We are in deep trouble as it means nothing can happen in this country to address our daunting problems until one party takes complete control.  Maybe that’s on the way if the Republican’s chief goal is defeating Obama in two years.  I’ve been a lifelong Republican but am dismayed at the course the party is taking; it is very dangerous.

The implications on the nation’s ability to govern itself are staggering.  I must conclude that indeed, the fabric of the nation is being ripped apart.

There is a must-read story that can be found in yesterday’s New York Times by Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny entitled Democrats Outrun by a 2-Year G.O.P. Comeback Plan.  It is truly frightening.  It describes nothing short of a scorched-earth political strategy on the part of Republicans to retake the House.  It amounts to a take-no-prisoners approach that if practiced fully by both political parties removes any possibility of compromise and therefore passage of legislation that addresses any of the country’s myriad of critical needs.  Here’s an excerpt, describing two power point slides contained in a presentation to House Republicans in January 2009:

“If the goal of the majority is to govern, what is the purpose of the minority?” one slide asked.

“The purpose of the minority,” came the answer, “is to become the majority.”

If both parties adopt this strategy, what this “winning is everything” strategy means is that there will be no room for governing, unless and until one party wins by significant enough margins to govern as would a majority party under a parliamentary system.  In the U.S. this would mean that a single party would have to win either (1) the Presidency, House and Senate with filibuster-proof margins in the Senate; or (2) the House and Senate with veto-proof margins.  Otherwise in the U.S., the result will be permanent gridlock and a complete inability to do the country’s business.  It apparently means waiting until until one party consolidates enough power to do it entirely its own way.

And it seems the Republicans are well on their way to planning this as well.  As reported by Peter Baker on November 2, 2010, in a story in the New York Times entitled In Republican Victories, The Tide Turns Starkly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is quoted as saying last week that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”  We thus have a clear enunciation that the priority of the Republican minority in the U.S. Senate will not be passing legislation critically needed by this country, but rather defeating President Obama and achieving a victory that will enable Republicans to enact policy objectives without compromise.

It is hard to imagine that Democratic Party strategy in the next two years won’t mirror the obviously successful strategy of their duopolistic counterpart.  Although it has long been my observation that there there is little incentive for a minority party to compromise, the stakes have now been raised to a new level.  Where this ends is anyone’s guess as the U.S. electorate has shown a great propensity over the years to divide their government, rarely trusting one party with total control as in a parliamentary system.  For the U.S. this means serious political crisis for the foreseeable future.

It is a reason I am rapidly concluding that “we the people” need to begin thinking of ways to end the duopoly.  More on this in future postings.

On March 3, 2009, I penned a weblog piece entitled A Liberal Ronald Reagan? In the piece I made the following observation:

Having last week finally seen the complete unveiling of Barack Obama–no, not a centrist but a true blue Democratic liberal–it is interesting to speculate on how the American public is ultimately going to judge its new leader.  The 2010 mid-term elections will give us a first indication.

Well, we’ve received our first indication of the American public’s judgement on our new leader and it is not good.  Anyone who says this isn’t reflection of the country’s views on President Obama’s first two years in office is smoking something.

Yet all is not lost.  This election may have been a blessing in disguise as it now puts President Obama in a position much more similar to that faced by the very popular Ronald Reagan.  As I point out in my piece, this will improve Obama’s chances of long-term success considerably.  Reagan was aided by not being able to be as conservative as he might otherwise have been and Obama will likewise be aided by his inability to follow a course more liberal that the country desires.

Make no mistake that I want President Obama to succeed.  The country needs him to succeed.  But he must slow the implementation of “the agenda”.  He took a massive gamble (see Obama the Gambler) and lost.  He must go back and focus on the economy and get that right and put utopian liberal dreams on hold, maybe forever.

Having re-read A Liberal Ronald Reagan? this morning I also became aware that I was mistaken about Obama’s skills as a communicator.  I had thought based on his performance in the election campaign that, as a communicator, he was almost an ideologically liberal clone of Ronald Reagan.  Yet it is now apparent Obama does not possess all of the communication skills of the “the great communicator”.  The one thing I’ve most noticed of late is that Obama doesn’t have that spark of personality that so endeared Reagan to America.  Obama projects dreadful seriousness all of the time.  He is tough not to respect but he is hard to really like.  I think he can work on that.  We need to see the likable side of the President more.

Let me close with the same words that closed my original piece two years ago.  They are, if anything, even more relevant.

The bottom line is that this story has yet to unfold.  It could go in many ways.  It will interestingto watch.  It will also be scary, as the country has so much at stake.  Had this been normal times, with an economy that was anywhere withing the range of normal, this liberal experiment that Obama’s proposing might have been an interesting and valuable exercise for the country.  In times of economic crisis, it seems rash and dangerous.  Let’s hope for the best case scenario, for failure could be unthinkably bad.  Let’s hope that Barack Obama does, indeed, turn out to be a liberal Ronald Reagan.

The pendulum swung right yesterday, very right.  This means, practically, a vigorous attempt by the victors to restrain government and undoubtedly to reduce taxes.  Yet the piper must  be paid and it’s unlikely that government cutbacks and tax decreases are going to solve our country’s myriad of crises, including its momentous budgetary problems.  Somebody, somewhere and sometime, is going to have to pay for the looming folly.  It also means, down the road, the country will react to the inevitable over-reaching by the ideological right by swinging again to the ideological left – probably beginning as early as the 2012 elections.  This may be good timing for President Obama, if he can act as the sane one.  Maybe he can channel Ronald Reagan circa 1982-1984.

The centrist’s frustration is in seeing the swings from left to right when a steady course of a little right there, a little left here as the exigencies of the particular situation require, would be in the best interests of the country.  It would also move the country farther along over the long haul.  Ideologically driven solutions only precipitate an ideological overreaction.  In the hyper-partisan atmosphere that permeates American politics today, it seems unlikely that the cycle will be broken any time soon, absent something extraordinary.  I have argued before that that “something extraordinary” might indeed be as simple as working to elect an “independent” contingent (15-20) to a future Congress – enough to alter the either/or, left/right dynamic that otherwise permeates the system.  It may require a run for President by a respected “moderate” in 2012.

The real tragedy of the swinging pendulum is that there is no room for solving the really big problems facing the country.  It can’t be done.

The words above are close to a mirror image of my posting on this weblog dated October 14, 2008, entitled The Centrist Lament.  It was written in the weeks preceding the Democratic landslide of 2010.  As a result of that landslide, liberals with great certainty asserted that the election had been transformational, giving them a mandate to move the country to the left, to the land of a government solution for every problem.  We are observing this morning how wrong they were and the consequences of such a thorough misreading of the electorate’s wishes.  The Republicans have no doubt already started claiming a mandate for halting and reversing that leftward tilt by promising to go even farther in eviscerating government and cutting taxes so as to “empower the people”.   I guarantee that this misreading of the electorate’s wishes won’t work out well for them either.

My piece of two years ago was precipitated by a David Brooks Op-Ed in the New York Times of October 13 , 2008, entitled Big Government Ahead.  He tagged it pretty darn well as I must say did I, unfortunately to the great continuing misfortune of our country.

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