Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Every Little Bit Helps

Of dissension in the GOP, I mean.

John Weaver, a former senior aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said that Republicans must be careful not to allow their Democratic rivals to paint them all with the brush of Limbaugh.

"The Democrats and the far left will do all they can to grab electoral turf," said Weaver. "And one sure way to do it is take some of the most controversial voices on the extreme right -- like Limbaugh and [Alaska Gov. Sarah] Palin -- and try to insist they speak for all members of the center/right movement."

(h/t: Greg Sargent/The Plum Line)


Adam said...

I'm interested in your opinion of whether Obama's election and the large Democratic majority in Congress represents a reaction to both Bush's hated Presidency and a fracturing of Republican interests or whether it represents a more generational change like the rise of Reagan in 1980 that began 20+ years of near continuous of Republican dominance.

The Bush-hatred meme was potent and widespread, but certainly it will die down by the time of the next Presidential election. And now that the Dems are running the show if, say, the economy doesn't get better it will be the Republicans policies who weren't implemented and the Democrats who were in the driver's seat when things didn't work.

I still see signs of at least a latent social conservatism; Prop 8 losing in California seemed highly incongruous with a wave of liberal victories on virtually every level of government. I am wondering if either a failure of economic recovery packages and/or a return to economic normalcy coupled with foreign policy debacles (Ahmedinnerjacket gets his nuke) could spell electoral disaster for the Dems.

That is: was the massive turnout of young/minority voters a one-time phenomenon based largely on Obama's personal charisma and a repudiation of 8 years of a hated President or does it represent a real leftward shift of the political center in the U.S.?

bjkeefe said...

Interesting questions, Adam.

Here are my thoughts/hopes:

I think Bush was both the unique case that you suggest and a handy. more general symbol for what GOP governance has become, in terms of the Dems looking for things to run against. You're right to say that, come the next couple of elections, he'll be of less use for campaigning purposes, although given the polling data I've seen about people expecting Obama not to be able to pull off an instant miracle, the idea that "Bush wrecked the country" will still have some legs. I think that if the GOP continues to be seen as ideologues bent on obstructing Obama purely for the sake of trying to claw their way back to power, it will be easy to portray them as "same old story/just like Bush."

This especially applies for the 2010 midterms. Come the next presidential election, I think blaming Bush will be less effective, and I agree that the state of the economy could well be seen to be largely the responsibility of the Dems. Again, though, if the GOP comes across as impeding solutions, and things are still bad, there could easily be competing blame narratives.

There's another way Bush could be resurrected from the Dems' point of view, too: If the next GOP nominee runs on a platform of prideful ignorance, that'll be another way for the Dems to use the image of Bush as a cudgel.

I don't much agree with your "latent social conservatism" view, at least as far as it being an effective majority, nor with your example of Prop. H8.

To the latter, I am instead encouraged by the evolution of the populace -- it took a concentrated and dishonest effort by the homophobes to eke out a win, and I've seen data that indicates that opposing same-sex marriage was a view considerably more prevalent just a few years ago. Everything I see about young people's attitudes says that homophobia will die out the same way other bigotries have -- time and increased familiarity with The Others cures all.

To the former, I'd say that the US population has long held what would be called liberal views on any number of issues; the problem has been more getting them to realize which party actually represents their wishes better. I do agree that there will remain a core of people who can be revved up by hammering on issues like abortion and Teh Ghey, but I think that (a) in hard times, lots of conservative-leaning people start to get impatient with obsessing over these; (b) the replacement of the older voters with the younger is inexorable, especially with respect to views of gay people, as noted above; and (c) the shifting demographics continue to work in favor of the Dems. The nation's urban population continues to grow and the rural/small town continues to dwindle, and the Republicans are doing sweet FA to reach out to immigrant groups, particularly Latinos.

To your thoughts about the massive turnout as a one-time thing: It could be, but it could also be that what we saw in 2008 is the beginning of a reawakened interest among younger voters. If Obama and the Dems have success with their agenda, that could keep this interest alive. His organization and continued ground game and outreach could help. And, depending on who runs against him in 2012, the same contrast between the old and new could still motivate the younger voters. Unless it's Palin or Jindal, the GOP is going to be running an old white guy -- Romney, Huckabee, or someone like that. Finally, unless the GOP makes a large and rapid change over the next four years, their brand is still going to be that of the party of no new ideas, continuing to slide into a niche of limited regional and demographic appeal. This could either keep the younger voters motivated, or since the GOP will be looking at a shrinking base, mean that if some younger people do slide a little ways back into apathy, it won't be a killer.

Ultimately, the biggest problem for the Dems is themselves. I think there could be a "generational change" and a long period of them staying in power, but I'd never bet against their ability to self-destruct.

bjkeefe said...

P.S. Another demographic nugget.

Adam said...

I am thinking that the Republican Party will hopefully realize that the Bush/Palin formula has not worked and that Obama is vulnerable since he basically is a tax and spend liberal and does not have nearly the political centrism of, say, Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Of course, it's the economy, stupid. Where the economy is and whether things have normalized by 2012 could effect things drastically. If things are still bad and the novelty of having a black President has worn off you could see a much more traditional demographic and numerical turnout.

Also, I'd hope that if the Republicans run another white man in 2012 they'll have the sense to run somebody who seems smart and capable (to subconsciously distinguish him from Bush) like (in order of preference) Tim Pawlenty, David Patraeus or possibly Mitt Romney. It will take years to wash the Bush taste out of the country's mouth and it will take years of concerted and consistent effort by Republicans far and wide to build up credibility as a party of fiscal responsibility again (right now, I would argue that there is not one, at least amongst the two major parties) and that a poor economy that is associated with lots of Democratic deficit spending could make swing voters reconsider their dalliance with progressivism.

I think that while it is obviously a historical nadir for the Republicans I'd expect that this is far from their end; as those young Obama voters get older they'll get mortgages, have kids and start paying income and capital gains taxes. If you looked at the Republicans in 1976 you might say these idiots have screwed up the country, their President was literally a criminal, how could they possibly ever gain power again?

Of course Obama >>>> Jimmy Carter, but the point remains I think the Republican Party will rise again although I'd hope that some of the craziest things like global warming denialism and intelligent design get thrown out. If Palin or Huckabee or serious candidates in 2012 we're in serious trouble.

But if you look at the long scope of American history in the 20th century there was a cycle of Republican normalcy followed by some sort of massive national disturbance (the Great Depression, the Vietnam War protests and Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s) that triggers what a period of Democratic power and expansion of Federal power followed by a return to normalcy and a desire for small gov't, low taxes, apple pie and fireworks (think Warren G. Harding, Ike Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan).

Now if David Patreaus will be that kind of figure in 2012 is impossible to predict but I think it'll come sometime, eventually. I would be glad if it took some of the power away from religious nuts in the Republican Party and made us a reality based party that just doesn't happen to believe in government paying for everything. One thing from the pattern seems certain though, which is that a permanent expansion of the Federal Government seems likely; given Obama's true progressive bona fides I fear that unlike Clinton whose signature achievement was centrist in welfare reform (I could imagine Obama basically replacing race-based affirmative action with a class-based system if he so chose) I think that it will be more along the lines of increasing "economic justice," i.e. income redistribution.

bjkeefe said...

I dispute the "tax" part of your "tax and spend" label. As far as I can tell, the only thing Obama has proposed in this area for the moment are tax cuts, and even before the economy crashed, he was looking to cut taxes for a lot more people than those whose taxes he wanted to raise. And as you know, I believe the rich in this country should be taxed more heavily than they are. Call it "redistributionist" or whatever the latest fashionable buzzword is, I'm all for it.

As to how liberal Obama is, or more importantly, will be, that remains to be seen. For the moment, I have to laugh at the right, who seem lately unable to decide whether he's a radical Marxist or "just like Reagan."

I agree that 2012 depends strongly on where the economy is. More generally, I agree there are no guarantees for a long period of Democratic rule.

I would like not to see Petraeus as president. I have an aversion to military brass becoming president. This may be irrational, I acknowledge.

I'm glad that you are not a fan of Palin and Huckabee or general dumbness in whomever becomes the next GOP candidate.

I reject out of hand the "small government" claim. The GOP will doubtless continue to use that as a slogan, but it didn't happen under the last four Republican presidents, and as long as the GOP remains dominated by social conservatives and bedwetters over terrorism, it'll never happen.

bjkeefe said...

One thing I forgot, Adam. To your view that all those young Obama supporters are going to grow up and turn conservative once they saddle themselves with mortgages, etc., I will point out that very often, party identification lasts for life.

As an anecdotal example, virtually everyone in my grandparents' generation came to the Dems thanks to FDR and never left. Ditto my parents' generation with JFK. I'd think we'll be speaking of "BHO" for decades if he does at all well, except that "Obama" is just too euphonious to give up.

Sing it!

O-bah-mah, O-bah-mah, O-bah-mah, O-bah-mah …


Adam said...

Note I did not say that the Republicans are a party of small government. They may claim that mantle but their actions over the past 8 years have absolutely erased any credibility to that claim. My point was that I hope that the Republican leadership realizes that anti-scientific denialism and gay-bashing is not going to win national elections anymore.

Hopefully they will realize that they only way they can win national elections is to appeal to their traditional strengths; strong on foreign policy and in favor of less government. They will need to change their actions to rebuild credibility on these issues, particularly on fiscal discipline. Like I said, I don't think either party currently actually believes in fiscal discipline. I hope that the Republicans can take up that mantle both philosophically and in the legislature, even if it is to establish a record of losing votes against ill-advised spending.

If we see a repeat of the early years of the Great Depression (take your pick from whether you start with Hoover or FDR, both cut free trade, increased government spending, increased taxes on the rich) then we will not see an improvement in the economy any time soon. While there has been talk of tax cuts for most of the population and government checks for a large fraction of the population disguised as "tax cuts" for people who don't pay Federal income tax there has been talk of very large tax hikes on the wealthy. We will obviously not come to agreement on the fundamental issue of whether equalizing economic outcomes is a desirable goal, however, there are other issues involved in considering tax hikes on the wealthy, which Obama has in fact proposed a number of.

On his campaign website he proposed a 67% increase on capital gains for the wealthy; while this might rise government revenue it will basically take money away from private investment so it can be invested (via government spending) by the public sector. I highly doubt this will be economically efficient and therefore should, in my opinion, be opposed regardless of the philosophical implications on income redistribution. Similarly, his "2%" tax hike (over the rate that was last in effect in 2000) to 41% coupled with a removal of the cap on the 6.8% payroll tax will yield roughly a 15% increase on income for the top 5%. This will increase government revenues, but again, it is those earners who are the only ones who are going to have money to do things like buy consumer durables or more importantly invest by buying what they think are undervalued assets. Again, a set of tax hikes that are questionable aside from philosophical grounds which in his "I won" negotiation Obama said were not up for discussion to postpone until the economy had started to recover.

I am not sure if I agree with your thesis (and that of the "What's the Matter With Kansas" school of thought) that voters are simply misinformed about who their values actually make them want to vote for. The economic crisis obviously changes people's feelings towards government handouts but in more normal times it might be arguable that people don't want to take money from the government if they don't need it to get by even if by voting for Democrats they could increase how much money they have; they might be philosophically opposed to the welfare payment.

It would be interesting to see what the political reaction across the country would have been in a boom time to Obama's plan to give "tax cuts" to the bottom 35% or so that basically amounts to taking them off the hook for paying into Social Security (while of course they still get the benefits.) The majority of voters would stand to get a direct monetary gain from taxes on the wealthy; would they support that if they were getting by? I'm not sure... I could see many people seeing it as demeaning in a normal time.

So the question is once normalcy is returned in the long run can the Republicans rebrand themselves... drop the most egregious God stuff that is apparently appealing to a dwindling part of the electorate and focus more on national defense and limited governance? Or will they go in the other direction and become a party that caters solely to evangelicals that leaves libertarians like me basically politically homeless? Or will they continue where they are now with a mass of differing goals and claims and no cohesive message as opposed to the Democrats who were finally rallied to coherence by a much-loathed political target?

I like Patraeus because although he was associated with the Bush Administration he was associated with a successful project and is the closest thing we've had to a heroic general in this country since Stormin' Norman. He also has less of a hard-ass image and projects (in my mind) an image of a competent strategist who can form an intelligent plan and then execute it. Military leaders also have a very successful electoral track record; I think he might be one of the only figures who the Republicans could nominate who would present Obama with an electoral threat, although of course 4 years into the future is impossible to predict. And who knows, he might not even be a Republican.

As to people not switching parties... my dad grew up a hippie wild child and voted for his first time against Reagan in '72 for Carter in '76 and then Republican in every election 'til '04 and '08. So he switched twice. My mom is less open with her votes but I know she switched to the Republicans starting by voting for Reagan. I just think that once these young people start having to balance their own budgets and plan for a long-term fiscal future they might long for a similar political goal.

Adam said...

The appointment of Michael Steele to me is a hopeful sign since while you might see his being picked as a day late dollar short Obama-lite pick with the Republicans trying to play catch-up, I see several positive things in his signing. I outline them in detail on my blog but in short, Steele won in a heads up battle with a South Carolina good old boy, comes from a state where racial politics are crucial and holds some unorthodox positions issues related to those (like using counterterrorism strategies on urban street gangs to really try to stop inner-city violence) but most importantly seems at first blush to be by far the most moderate, least Jesus-freak contender there was (he is pro-life but recognizes "33 years of reality" which I think is code for not wanting to make abortion a big deal.)

He also disagrees with some positions that are held by almost all Republicans (he's in favor of affirmative action) and some other positions I outlined in my blog post and he is a deficit hawk. He is by no means necessarily savior but he fulfills the necessary if not the sufficient conditions for what the GOP has to do to become a party worth saving in the future.