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RealClearPolitics - Articles - Ryan Sager

Last Build Date: Thu, 16 Nov 2006 09:30:12 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

House GOP Needs Leadership Change

Thu, 16 Nov 2006 09:30:12 -0600

If the GOP had held or lost the House by a narrow margin, there might be an argument for keeping the current team. They're experienced. They know how to move legislation. They're the Establishment.

But as the president said, the GOP took a thumpin'. Experience matters less now. The party doesn't get to move legislation. And the Republican Establishment is what the American people just tossed out on its ear.

It's time for Republicans to let go of their majority mindset and start thinking like a minority.

The job of the new Republican minority isn't to go along to get along. Its job is to articulate a renewed conservative message, to stand up to the new Democratic majority and, perhaps most crucially, to stand up to a president who has never been a true conservative and will now be more inclined toward compromise with liberalism than ever.

Boehner and Blunt are not the men for the job. Blunt is part of the DeLay machine from way back. Boehner, the man who once handed out checks from tobacco lobbyists on the House floor, is no reformer either. He won his leadership position at the beginning of this year, when he replaced Tom DeLay, by promising not to rock the boat.

It turns out the boat needed rocking. And not just in terms of the K Street coziness.

The GOP hasn't just allowed itself to become corrupt in the dollar-and-cents sense. It's also undergone a full-blown corruption of its ideas and ideals -- giving up on limited government and instead signing onto any scheme it thought would keep it in power.

The voters noticed. A survey by the conservative Club for Growth, taken in 15 battleground districts in the days before election, found that voters trusted the Democrats over the Republicans by a margin of 15 points to "eliminate wasteful spending." Asked which was the "party of big government," voters chose the GOP by a margin of 10 points.

In this area as well, Boehner and Blunt are hardly the men to right the ship. If there are any two votes in the last six years that should stand as a litmus test for a new generation of conservative leaders, those would be the roll calls on No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription-drug bill. Boehner and Blunt both voted for these big-government boondoggles. (Boehner, in fact, was in charge of larding up NCLB until Teddy Kennedy would swallow it.) Pence and Shadegg voted against both, in defiance of the Republican leadership and in the face of extreme pressure from the White House.

Likewise, on campaign-finance reform (another issue on which Republicans have gone native), Boehner and Blunt are unacceptable to true conservatives. While both took a principled stand against the egregious McCain-Feingold bill back in 2002, they abandoned their commitment to free speech earlier this year when they voted to expand campaign-finance regulations to cripple so-called 527 groups -- one of the last bastions of political speech untrammeled by Congress. Pence and Shadegg voted against both.

House Republicans need a strong voice at the top. Pence isn't perfect (he's voted for farm and highway bills laden with pork). But, on the big issues, he's voted like a real conservative. And as George W. Bush steered the party off course, Pence didn't wait until after a shocking electoral defeat to wake up and speak up -- he's been shouting at the top of his lungs since early 2004.

There's a battle to control the Republican Party -- the forces of K Street and stay-the-course are duking it out with a new generation that remembers the legacy of Reagan and Goldwater. If the GOP can't accept the message voters sent last Tuesday, one that's urging them to get back to basics, they're going to be grieving for a long time to come.

Newt Gingrich on the Direction of the GOP

Fri, 29 Sep 2006 00:37:37 -0600

Gingrich: I think the Republican brand is in trouble. People forgot why they were doing what they were doing. There's sort of a performance minimum, and if you don't meet it, you're in trouble. There's a degree to which it's almost like watching recessions in industries. You now have a Republican Party in danger of being in a recession. The party is confused as to its identity. And I don't see a very large market for a pro-pork, centrist Republican Party. You're caught in a muddle that is one part incumbentitis, one part lacking an understanding of venture investments in politics, and one part intellectual shallowness. The real breakthroughs we need require a level of intellectual depth that is not one of the strengths of the Republican Party. You say the Republican brand is in trouble. One man has been managing it for five years. Is this George W. Bush's fault? It's the collective leadership of the party's fault. I'm uninterested in who's to blame. I'll let you worry about that. The degree to which committee chairmen are dominated by incumbentitis is not George W. Bush's fault. The degree to which 9/11 changed things was also not his fault. I'm very blunt about the fact that I think this party's in severe danger of losing both the White House and the Congress. Interestingly, McCain, who's the most iconoclastic Republican, is also the one who currently runs best. Can John McCain win a Republican primary, despite his sponsorship of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-regulation bill and despite his differences with social conservatives? It depends. You have to say that as of today, he is sort of where Dole was in '95. The Republican Party often gets a sense of exhausted acceptance and decides, oh yeah, you've earned it. And McCain's doing everything he can to earn it. I mean, he's very methodically out there. And my sense is he's not that much of a social liberal. He has a running brawl with the right-to-life folks. But, beyond that, he's a pretty Arizona type. Can Democrats compete in the West? The challenge for Republicans is to appeal to younger African Americans and younger Hispanics. The challenge for Democrats is to be good enough on God and guns that they can combine enough traditional independent voters in rural regions with a new, emerging Hispanic Democratic Party. Can they pull that off? How does the party of Vermont and San Francisco reach out over time? You can do it race by race. Whether or not you can do it as a party, I don't know. Were Republicans shell shocked by what they saw as defeat in the 1990s? The answer's "yes," but I've never understood it. We were the first Republican majority in 40 years, we were the first reelected Republican majority in 68 years, but people were so shaken. In my view we were winning. Welfare reform, we won. Tax cuts, we won. Balanced budget, we won. I would have thought it was a time for great celebration, but you could tell people were shell shocked. Back to George W. Bush, has the No Child Left Behind Act furthered the cause of conservative education reform? The jury's out. Modern, bureaucratic, unionized education is a form of intellectual child abuse. We ought to tackle it at that level. In a lot of directions, the administration's heart is in the right place, but it doesn't think through the implications of its values. They keep trying to find a way to improve the failure as opposed to finding a way to invent the alternative. Is the Republican Party out of ideas? That's what we're looking for now. We're looking for a next cycle of intellectual politics. I don't mean this in an abstract, French university sense. I mean this in the sense of what are the key ideas that underpin where we are going, and how do we make them understandable to the average person, and how do we make them popular. And that's the heart of where we have to go to in the next phase. How far has Bush brought the Republican Party toward being a "governing party"? Not very. And it's because the most important characteristic of a governing party is that you set [...]

Dick Armey on the Direction of the GOP

Fri, 15 Sep 2006 08:02:53 -0600

What accounted for the discipline the federal government was able to maintain in the 1990s? Was it just that we had divided government? Why have things fallen apart since then? When I used to stand up and say "hell no" to Bill Clinton, I was always applauded by all the people I love. When I stood up and said "hell no" to George Bush, I was berated by all the people I love. I'm not sure, it's not clear to me, that Denny [Speaker Dennis Hastert] and [former House majority leader] Tom [DeLay] ever really embraced the vision in the first place, either one of them. Denny's pretty much a parochial politician who believes it's not only your right but probably your duty to bring home the bacon. And Tom is an appropriator. Was 1994 an anti-government rebellion by voters, or an anti-Washington rebellion? It was an anti-Democrat rebellion. Our basic thesis was that we could find 10 things that had high standing with the American people that were demonstrably kept off the floor for even a vote by the Democrats. The whole point of the Contract was if you give us the majority we will vote on these things in the first 100 days. People say the Democrats should do a Contract. The problem is they can't find 10 things that the American people embrace that we keep off the floor. They can find 10 things that their party embraces that we keep off the floor. But they don't have the majority party in America. What went wrong with the government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996? How did the Republicans miscalculate? Newt's position was, presidents get blamed for shutdowns, and he cited Ronald Reagan. My position was, Republicans get blamed for shutdowns. I argued that it is counterintuitive to the average American to think that the Democrat wants to shut down the government. They're the advocates of the government. It is perfectly logical to them that Republicans would shut it down, because we're seen as antithetical to government. I said if there's a shutdown, we're going to get the blame. Here's the other thing: You're heard saying rather boldly in June that you're going to shut the government in the fall. You've set the stage for the press to report that the Republicans are now doing in October what they said they'd do in June. Even if, in fact, they thought it was the right strategy to shut down the government, they should have kept their mouths shut about it. The fact of the matter is what happened was, they honestly believed that Clinton would not shut down the government. It was a fiasco that was harmful and dangerous to us because we made it that way. How could the Republicans have done things differently in 1995? Just keep our mouth shut, go through the year, stick to our guns, stand quietly on the ground that we had, live by continuing resolutions until we break them. What we did was we precipitated a political confrontation, and we got our butts kicked. If we had just quietly done the nation's business, and let it drag into the next year -- it did anyway -- I think Clinton would have come along. What you had to do with Bill Clinton was don't give him any schmooze. The quiet "no," this is what he couldn't deal with. If you take me out in the back street with Muhammad Ali and give me a gun, I'll shoot him, right, and nobody will notice, but if you let me get in the ring with him, he's gonna kick the tar outta me. Clinton, if you give him the political arena, he's a Muhammad Ali. Newt thought he was big enough and smart enough and strong enough to handle Clinton, so that's what it was really about. Newt was really swelled up with -- the speaker's a very important job, I'm a really important man, I'm as important as the president. He had a compelling need to prove that the speaker was as big as, or bigger than, the president. A lot of it was naïveté on our part. We'd never been there before. Quite frankly, I look back at it, we did a remarkable job for people who'd never been in control of anything. But the idea that we could meet Clinton on his ground and beat him, I just think wa[...]

Insulting the Wal-Mart Voters: Always Bad Politics. Always.

Thu, 31 Aug 2006 07:09:30 -0600

Earlier this month, Sen. Joe Biden -- who dreams of running for president when he isn't gagging on his own ankle -- ranted to a crowd in Iowa for 15 minutes about the company's wages and health plans, according to the New York Times. "My problem with Wal-Mart is that I don't see any indication that they care about the fate of middle-class people," Biden said. "They talk about paying them $10 an hour. That's true. How can you live a middle-class life on that?"

Meanwhile, in the nasty Democratic primary in Connecticut, the only thing Sen. Joe Lieberman and netroots challenger Ned Lamont could agree on was that they both hated Wal-Mart. Hillary Clinton (who used to be on Wal-Mart's board when she lived in Arkansas, the company's home state) returned $5,000 in campaign contributions from the retailer last year, citing its health-care practices. And Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, a former head of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, told the New York Times earlier this month that, "Wal-Mart has become emblematic of the anxiety around the country, and the middle-class squeeze."

Well, it's also emblematic of something else: 1.3 million workers around the country who draw a paycheck from this supposed enemy of the middle class and hundreds of millions of loyal shoppers.

While the Democrats seem quite sure they've captured lighting in a bottle with this anti-Wal-Mart crusade, they might take a look at their recent record of political astuteness and try to sort out the wants of their labor-union base and the needs of average American swing voters.

In particular, a new poll out from the Pew Research Center might give Democrats more than a moment of pause. Despite a relentless anti-Wal-Mart campaign over the last few years -- funded by unions that haven't been able to organize Wal-Mart and that want to keep it from growing its grocery business -- Americans still have very positive views of Wal-Mart. And not just Americans generally, but Democrats specifically.

While the farthest reaches of the Left have bought into the anti-Wal-Mart campaign (53 percent of liberal Democrats hold an unfavorable view of the company), moderate Democrats and independents have not been swayed (by a margin of two-to-one, they think the company has a good effect on the country). Republicans, meanwhile, are virtually uniform in their admiration for the store (73 percent of liberal Republicans hold a favorable view of the company; 72 percent of conservative Republicans do).

What's more, not only do Americans generally like Wal-Mart, they also consider it a good place to work. Only 34 percent of Americans identified Wal-Mart as a "bad" place to work, and they were, again, primarily liberal Democrats.

What seems to be going on here is that, as usual, a fairly massive cultural divide between the leadership of the Democratic Party and the heart of middle America has led the anti-capitalism party astray. Liberals, city-dwellers, and the better-off are all less likely to have shopped at Wal-Mart than those who are lower-middle-class, live in rural areas (especially the South), or are socially conservative.

Rich, guilt-ridden liberals see Wal-Mart, and they see injustice. Then they see union members opposed to Wal-Mart as well, and they figure that this means most of America must be ready to run Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott out of town on a rail.

The truth is, the people in the middle, working Americans (most of them, by far, non-unionized) see Wal-Mart for what it is: a place to get stuff for cheap, to keep the family budget in balance.

To try to distract from this central truth -- to inadvertently suggest, even, that Wal-Mart shoppers are acting selfishly by abetting this evil corporation -- might fire up a few union activists who were voting Democratic anyway. But it's unlikely to win back the Wal-Mart voters.

Lieberman vs. Lamont: The Perils of Partisanship

Wed, 09 Aug 2006 07:35:28 -0600

To the casual observer, the logic of the Kos crowd taking on Joe Lieberman this year would seem to defy reason. For the first time since the Republicans took over Congress in 1994, the Democrats have an excellent shot at taking back the House and an outside chance of taking back the Senate. Polls show voters not just mad at Republicans or mad at Congress generally, but actually ready to throw out incumbents on scale not seen for more than a decade. Opposition to the Iraq war has the Left energized, gas prices have swing voters in a foul mood, and immigration has the GOP base split. Thus, the netroots' No. 1 priority is: replacing a solid Democratic senator with a different Democrat? Putting aside the particulars of Joe Lieberman, this just sounds insane. There are House and Senate seats held by Republicans that the netroots activists could be flooding with money and volunteered man hours. There are at least two House seats in Connecticut (held by Republicans Chris Shays and Rob Simmons) where the money could be more logically spent. There's Sen. Rick Santorum to take down in Pennsylvania. There's Sen. Conrad Burns in Montana in a close race against another netroots favorite, Jon Tester. Yet, somehow, Lieberman was priority No. 1. And if Lieberman pursues the independent bid he seems 100 percent committed to pursuing, Democrats will spend even more time and money fighting one of their own as November approaches. Why? Lieberman has the answer: partisanship. "The old politics of partisan polarization won today," Lieberman said in his concession/announcement speech. It's a politics, he said, that values insults over ideas, that labels every compromise a surrender, that calls every disagreement disloyalty. That anger, in case you missed it, was directed at the Left, not the Right. It's the Left that has built an entire primary campaign on an image of President Bush kissing Lieberman. It's the Left that calls Lieberman a Republican "enabler" for seeking common ground on important legislation. It's the Left that calls Lieberman a "traitor" for voting his conscience on Iraq and calling for unity during wartime. Yet, there's a logic to the Left's illogic in attacking Lieberman. The 2006 midterms, to the netroots, are essentially irrelevant. In fact, a victory for the Democrats in 2006 is the worst thing that could possibly happen to the Kos crowd. They have yet to truly "crash the gates" and take over the Democratic Party -- thus, a victory helmed by the hated "Democratic establishment" this year would render the Kossacks irrelevant. Their goal, for now, is simply to be feared in the Democratic primary process. In that sense, last night's Lamont victory is mission (almost) accomplished. Writing ahead of Lamont's victory, liberal blogger David Sirota wrote that a five-point margin over Lieberman might make "Democratic insiders realize their fight against ordinary citizens is a losing battle and realize their careers are about to be cut short lest they change their ways." Thanks to such a realization, he wrote, the Democratic Party might "actually start winning national elections for the first time in a generation." That's one argument. It assumes, however, that the problem with the Democratic Party is that it has not been defeatist enough on the Iraq war, that is has not pushed hard enough for an ever-increasing minimum wage, and that it has not pushed hard enough for socialized medicine. Self-styled "progressives" no doubt believe this to be the case. There is, however, another argument. That argument holds that the two major impediments to Democratic victory have been: 1) the party's dovishness and softness in the War on Terror, and 2) the party's image as beholden to special interests such as labor unions and the ACLU. The left-wing, netroots, progressive movement -- really, whatever they want to call themselves -- may be right that they can take over the Democratic Party and build a new coalition that will gr[...]

Campaign-Finance Reform Has Been a Bust

Wed, 02 Aug 2006 07:30:22 -0600

Let's start with a look at the proposal from McCain's erstwhile allies. The presidential public-financing system, they say, is broken and weak -- thus the need for repairing and strengthening it. Why is it broken? In announcing the Presidential Public Financing Act of 2006, Feingold cited three factors: the frontloading of the primary process, the emergence of extremely wealthy candidates and the "unpopularity" of the tax check-off, where people can designate (at no cost) $3 of their tax payments to the public-financing system.

The most telling of those three factors is the third. In 2005, only 9 percent of filers elected to support the Presidential Election Campaign Fund; the number has been decreasing steadily for years. At a conference held last December by supporters of public financing, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake offered some insights into why the program is so unpopular. "People can't imagine paying their own good money to have more campaign ads sent to them," Lake said. Or, as one of her focus-group participants put it: "Why in the world would you contribute even a dollar to promote this system or promote these bastards?"

Since 1976, the federal government has spent more than $2.4 billion (in current dollars) for the public-financing system. More than $600 million has gone to each of the major parties for things like TV ads and the ridiculous beauty pageants we call nominating conventions. A full $42 million of the money went to billionaire Ross Perot. A reasonable citizen would be justified in asking: Has one cent of this been money well spent?

But now Feingold and his pals want to increase tremendously the amount of money spent on the system -- upping the matching rate from 1-to-1 to 4-to-1 for small donations candidates raise during the primaries -- and increasing how much publicly-financed candidates can spend in the general election. Most insulting to the intelligence of average Americans: They want to spend $10 million per election cycle on a propaganda campaign "educating" citizens as to why public financing is so great.

But, of course, the amount of money isn't the real problem here. A hundred million here, a hundred million there -- it's not even close to real money, at least when it comes to the scope of the federal budget.

The real problem is the increasing disconnect between the campaign-finance regulators and the general public.

First of all, there's the fact that no one in America cares about the issue, even in the slightest. Lake recounted that her firm had recently asked voters an open-ended question about what are the most important problems the president and the Congress should deal with. "Not a single voter mentioned campaign-finance reform," she said. It's safe to say there is no public clamor for the legislation Feingold and friends are pushing.

But the disconnect has a second element, which is even more important: The project of campaign-finance "reform" begins from the assumption that politicians are hopelessly corrupt; and then it bets on the prospect that a particular subset of these corrupt beasts, known as legislators, can rise above its nature and "clean up the system."

Gay Marriage and Democracy

Fri, 28 Jul 2006 00:24:17 -0600

The recent court decisions -- in New York on July 6 and in Washington State yesterday -- refusing to create gay marriage by judicial fiat have had a remarkable effect on the public discourse surrounding the issue: They've brought it into being.

Granted, there's been a lot of hollering about gay marriage, particularly from the Republican Party denouncing the activist judges who want to rewrite our marriage laws. But the Democratic Party has been largely silent. It's presumed many Democrats are in favor of gay marriage or civil unions, but most keep their mouths shut or even make noises about "defending marriage" to avoid the inevitable political fallout of speaking up.

But now, Democratic politicians are being forced to take a stand -- since judges aren't going to be able to do the heavy lifting for them.

When New York's decision came down, governor-in-waiting Eliot Spitzer immediately said he supported gay marriage and would introduce a bill to create it. Now, Washington's Gov. Chris Gregoire has come out for the first time in favor of (essentially) civil unions.

The logic here is simple. When the courts are taken out of the equation, people actually have to take sides and then defend their positions. In some states, it will be easy to defend the anti-gay marriage position. In others, however, like New York and Washington, high-profile Democrats are going to have to start going with their consciences -- or, at least, with public opinion.

It will be interesting to watch New York and Washington in the coming year. Those watching New York can check out the legislative wiki, put together by Ben Smith at the Daily News, set up to track state legislators' positions on the issue.

Blogola on the Right

Thu, 27 Jul 2006 00:50:55 -0600

Jim Geraghty at National Review reports that Patrick Hynes of Ankle Biting Pundits -- and author of In Defense of the Religious Right -- has been blogging about John McCain, while also, undisclosed, working as a political consultant for him.

Geraghty's story has all the details and Hynes's response to the whole thing -- in which he accepts full responsibility and explains how the relationship came to be. Also, here's Hynes's post at his own blog (comments are open).

Two things strike me here:

First, Hynes is handling this correctly. There's basically no excuse for not disclosing the relationship earlier. And his past comments about similar scandals on the Left now look awfully hypocritical. But, unlike on the Left, it's not all deny, deny, deny. He handled something in the wrong way, and now he's saying so forthrightly.

Second, isn't McCain the one always hyperventilating about "circumvention" of campaign-finance laws. He and his pals even wanted to clamp down on the Internet recently to prevent bloggers from coordinating with campaigns. And now this is what his PAC is up to? Very odd.

Or, really, entirely predictable.

Blogging Intelligence

Tue, 25 Jul 2006 08:30:19 -0600

Plenty of people in various realms of commerce have been having a tough time separating business from pleasure when it comes to blogging. Flight attendant Ellen Simonetti was famously fired for posting pictures of herself on her blog in her Delta uniform. Perhaps more famously, at least among tech nerds, a Microsoft contractor got the blue screen of death for posting pictures of Apple G5 computers being unloaded onto the software manufacturer's campus. And perhaps most famously, at least to politics nerds, in 2004, Jessica Cutler, a staff assistant in Sen. Mike DeWine's (R-OH) office, got into some hot water for chronicling her extracurricular (and extralegal) activities under the name Washingtonienne. All these incidents point to a trend (three makes a trend, you can look it up): Blogs are a powerful tool for communication, but it's human nature to provoke, procrastinate and post sensitive information. What a dangerous combination for people who deal in fighting the War on Terror. It's a danger, however, we're going to have to find a way to live with. In a lot of ways, the Axsmith case is trivial. She seems to have been a low-level software tester, and, as such, she's a couple levels removed from actual intelligence gathering or analysis. What's more, if she was really reviewing the cafeteria food during work hours, her bosses were at least justified in telling her to knock it off -- if not, it would seem, to fire her for such an inconsequential bit of slacking. More worrisome is what actually seems to have gotten her fired: blogging about interrogation transcripts she read as part of an assignment that, in her words, "should not be made public." It seems more likely that this breach was the proximate cause of her firing as opposed to her political views about the Bush administration and the Geneva Conventions. In fact, the entire idea of a top-secret intelligence intranet would seem to be an invitation to incidents like this one: embarrassments major and minor, nasty internal spats and exchanges leaked to the press, and always the possibility of disclosures of sensitive intelligence. At the same time, there's a growing awareness that new information-sharing technology, particularly blogging, can be a particular boon to the intelligence community. Blogger Daniel Drezner points to this article (PDF) by intelligence experts Douglas Hart and Steven Simon in the Spring 2006 issue of the journal Survival. If I may be permitted to quote at some length, because it's worth a read: Current reporting procedures within the intelligence community enforce a hierarchical organizational structure in which information flows up and decisions flow down. Blogs, on the other hand, produce communities of interest in which power is manifested through the number of individual connections within a network, rather than through an individual's position with respect to reporting chains. These networks are key to emergent or new types of critical thinking amongst the analytical population. In other words, blogs might well be a means for individual analysts to express dissenting opinions that are not subject to official censorship. Blogs can encourage critical thinking by placing bloggers in an informal and wide-reaching context of peer review that is not easily censored by management. Furthermore, a blog might be linked to structured arguments as evidence of the thought process that went into the argument. Alternatively, blogs, especially those espousing contrarian positions, could be linked to structured arguments as a means of safeguarding against analytical bias and its collective equivalent, groupthink. Blogs might also operate as digital dissent channels out of the glare of a stifling official context. According to the New York Times, more than 1,000 blogs have been set up on classified servers in the last year. This i[...]

Revisiting America's Purple Mountains

Tue, 11 Jul 2006 08:30:53 -0600

While after the 2004 election, plenty of people took note of the fact that a shift of 60,000-odd votes in Ohio would have handed the Electoral College to John Kerry, less remarked upon was the fact that a shift of a similar magnitude in the Southwest would have done the same trick. Fewer than 70,000 votes among Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico -- with their collective 19 electoral votes -- would have swung the election just as surely as Ohio's 60,000. And with George W. Bush having won by margins of 5 percentage points, 3 points and 1 point, respectively, these were swing states by any definition of the term. In fact, it's looking more and more likely that the eight states of the Southwest and the broader interior West -- Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming -- are on their way to becoming the next great swing region in American politics. As the Republican Party tilts on its South-West axis, increasingly favoring southern values (religion, morality, tradition) over western ones (freedom, independence, privacy), the Democrats have been presented with a tremendous opportunity. If the Republican Party doesn't want to lose its hold over all of the West, as it lost hold of once-reliable California more than a decade ago, its leaders are going to have to rethink their embrace of big-government, big-religion conservatism. Why? The interior West is not the South -- not by demography and not by ideology. First, take religion. Generally, as progressive Paul Waldman points out in his new book, Being Right Is Not Enough, Republican strongholds have lots of evangelicals, Democratic strongholds have very few, and swing states are in between. By this rule of thumb, the Southwest fits neatly into the "swing" category. But so does the interior Northwest, which is typically considered more socially conservative and more solidly Republican. Evangelicals make up between 29 percent and 33 percent of the population in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming -- figures much closer to California's 28 percent or Maine's 26 percent than to Virginia's 41 percent or Texas's 51 percent. Second, take the growth of the Hispanic population. It's no secret that the West is becoming more Hispanic, and Hispanics tend to cast their ballots for Democrats. Republicans made a lot of noise after the 2004 election about their inroads with this population, and initial exit polls showed Bush taking 44 percent of the Hispanic vote nationwide. But later, more careful reviews deflated that figure to 40 percent or less, with much of Bush's support clustered in Texas and Florida. What's more, whatever gains Bush has made among Hispanics seem to begin and end with him. Hispanic party identification consistently registers roughly two to one in favor of the Democrats, and hasn't shown any major swing toward the GOP under Bush. Continuing growth of the Hispanic population in the interior West is bad news for Republicans. And third, take the growth of what might be called the ex-Californian population. The congested, generally liberal population centers of California are overflowing -- and as they do, it's as if a bucket of blue paint were spilling over the West. More than 400,000 Arizonans and 360,000 Nevadans were born in California. The thinly populated mountain West states are slowly taking on a left-coast character as well: as of the last census, 122,000 native Californians lived in Idaho (total population 1.3 million) while 47,000 lived in Montana (900,000) and 21,000 lived in Wyoming (490,000). So, that's the demography. What about the ideology? The interior West is a distinctive region there as well. While most public-opinion research released to the public lumps the Blue Pacific Coast in with the Red interior West (and calls the whole, incoherent mess the "West"), I asked the kind folks over at [...]

Revenge of the Wal-Mart Voters

Tue, 27 Jun 2006 08:30:42 -0600

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press was the first to detect this new voting bloc's appearance as part of the Republican coalition. In 1999, Pew labeled these voters "Populists" and determined they were taking their place in the Republican Party alongside the two factions that had historically made up the conservative movement: laissez faire economic conservatives and social conservatives. Today, armed with polling data showing a high correlation between frequency of Wal-Mart shopping and voting preferences, pollster John Zogby is trying to make "the Wal-Mart voter" the new "it" voter of 2006 -- like soccer moms and NASCAR dads before. He's definitely on to something. And it's a big something: Weekly Wal-Mart shoppers make up about one-fifth of the U.S. population. Zogby finds that while 85 percent of frequent Wal-Mart shoppers voted for President Bush's reelection in 2004 (and 88 percent of people who never shop there voted for Sen. John Kerry), Wal-Mart voters have turned on the president dramatically. In a poll taken earlier this month, they gave Bush a 35 percent approval rating -- compared to a 45 percent positive rating from born-again Christians, 49 percent from NASCAR fans, and 54 percent from self-identified conservatives. Most worrying for the GOP: Fifty-one percent of Wal-Mart voters agreed with the statement that it's "time for the Democrats to take over and run" Congress -- as opposed to just 31 percent who think "Republicans deserve to retain control." Granted, Wal-Mart voters' politics have less to do with shopping at Wal-Mart than who these people are. Fifty-seven percent of Southerners say they shop at Wal-Mart regularly, according to a recent Pew survey. Wal-Mart shoppers are also disproportionately rural and suburban, as the company is in the midst of a slow, fiercely-union-opposed push into urban areas. The correlation between cheap underwear and populist politics could evaporate as the Wal-Mart brand evolves to fit a more urban and upscale market. But, for now, it's a useful shorthand. And Zogby's findings should be a huge red flag to the GOP. Ever since the Gingrich revolution went off course and the GOP took a beating for instigating the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, the Republican Party has been trying to prove to jittery low-to-moderate income voters that it's not all that anti-government. Instead, it's hoped to hold these voters' loyalty by pressing their cultural hot buttons -- gay marriage, flag burning, gay flag burning, married gays burning flags -- and, after 9/11, making the (entirely reasonable) case that the Democrats are not to be trusted on national security. But this year, voters are fed up with the war in Iraq, and other than that they're focused on the economy, immigration, health care and gas prices. None of this cuts in favor of the GOP with the Wal-Mart set. Wal-Mart voters are giving Democrats a 6-point edge as to who's better equipped to handle foreign policy, an 18 percent edge on health care and a 25 percent edge on gas prices (the parties are dead-even among Wal-Mart voters on the economy and immigration). What's more, moral values hardly rate as an issue this year, for any voting bloc. Wal-Mart voters are simply not a viable, reliable conservative constituency. When Pew looked at the opinions of those pro-government conservatives in a 2005 study, it found that 94 percent favor a higher minimum wage, 63 percent favor the government guaranteeing health care to all citizens, and fewer than half favor drilling in ANWR. What's worst: more than half of pro-government conservatives held positive views of both Bill and Hillary Clinton. This is clearly not a voting bloc that Republicans can count on in 2006 or 2008. What's more, the type of constant cultural pandering and abando[...]

The GOP's Muzzle

Tue, 20 Jun 2006 07:30:43 -0600

Whether it's enough to force a serious confrontation on the issue between status quo politicians such as Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Bill Frist and the fed-up conservative base remains to be seen. But it's at least a start. And where the various candidates line up on the issue over the next year and a half will tell Republican primary voters quite a lot about who's on board with Karl Rove's vision of a permanent, principle-less majority and who's ready to ready to rethink the mistakes of the last five-plus years. Allen's attack on speech regulation (and threat to aid a filibuster) comes in a letter to Frist dated June 9, and is signed by six of his Senate colleagues: Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Mike Enzi (R-Wy.), John Sununu (R-N.H.) and David Vitter (R-La.). It has received little attention from the press, but it's quite a stinging rebuke to the party's leadership. Republicans, of course, used to be against allowing politicians to decide what's good (legal) and bad (illegal) speech -- because, oddly enough, when politicians have that power, they tend to come to the conclusion that any speech that could cost them their jobs is the bad kind. A president named George H.W. Bush vetoed campaign-finance reform. Speaker Newt Gingrich did everything he could to keep such bills off the House floor in the 1990s, and Majority Leader Trent Lott did the same in the Senate. Now, however, senators who stood firm against McCain-Feingold in 2002, including Lott and Frist, and House members who did the same, such as one Dennis Hastert, have changed their minds. With the GOP firmly entrenched as the party of incumbents, they've apparently decided that if campaign-finance regulation can't be stopped, it might as well be used to ruthlessly go after their political opponents. And since Democratic 527s bring in more money than Republican ones, they simply must be destroyed. Allen and his cosigners, however, don't see it that way: "As Republicans, we strongly believe in freedom, including freedom of expression and association. We campaigned for office on the principles of a limited and constitutional government. As elected officials we took an oath of office to 'support this Constitution'," the letter's opening states. "The First Amendment's dictates are a model of clarity." And indeed they are: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech." But perhaps Allen & Co. didn't get the memo. The modern Republican Party can't quite grasp the plain meaning of the Constitution. After all, its leader, President Bush, signed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, acknowledging that he believed it to be unconstitutional -- and leaving it to a bunch of well-known activist judges on the Supreme Court to figure out. Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, went along under the theory that the law would hobble the Democrats, who relied more on the soft money that the bill banned than did the GOP. Fast forward to 2004, when Democratic 527s such as the Voter Fund and America Coming Together raised tens of millions of dollars before their conservative counterparts had even left the gate, and Republicans decided it was time for a massive crackdown on this new "loophole." The Republican Party's change of heart on campaign-finance reform, indeed, has tracked neatly with its overall surrender to the idea of "big-government conservatism," such as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003. Each of these bills betrayed timeless conservative, small-government principles to purchase temporary political gain. Or, as Democratic campaign-finance attorney Robert Bauer recently put it: "Campaign finance regulation is t[...]

Building a Wall

Mon, 05 Jun 2006 18:30:11 -0600

Her husband had died after 9/11 of asbestos-related cancer, she said, so America needs a more secure border with Mexico. (Hers is a personal tragedy, to be sure, but has nothing to do with Mexico or border security.) Illegal immigrants are sexual predators, she added. And illegal immigrants don't assimilate. What's more, Republicans had better watch out because she and other voters are fed up and are going to vote for whomever Lou Dobbs tells them to next time around. On the bullhorn after Adams came a young woman identifying herself as Hispanic and a Democrat. She spoke for about 30 seconds to say that the rally wasn't racist -- as if anyone ever would have come away with such a bizarre idea. Things got fun, however, as a man bearing a striking resemblance to Richard Dreyfuss (so striking, in fact, as to appear cultivated) took to the bullhorn to explain how Bush, a "son of privilege," cared not a whit for the working man. It was at that point that a young woman with an abundant concern for the working man -- why, she was brandishing a copy of Socialist Worker, for God's sake -- showed up to get the counter-protest going. Alone in her rebellion for a few moments, she began a one-woman chant: "Don't give in to racist fear, immigrants are welcome here!" (All chants on the Left must rhyme -- it's policy.) She added: "Mexicans didn't cross the border, the border crossed them!" (A violation of the rhyming policy, to be sure, but it's tough to rhyme irredentism.) It wasn't long before an anti-illegal-immigration protestor and a pro-illegal-immigration protestor were in each other's faces. "Racists go home! Racists go home!" the counter-protestors chanted, including a young radical in a bright yellow shirt. A man in a baseball cap from the other side charged up. "You Nazi motherf--ker!" the kid in the yellow shirt yelled at him. "Oh, I'm a Nazi, OK," the man in the baseball cap said. "That's right, this is a fascist organization," the kid screamed, referring to the Minutemen, co-sponsors of the protest. "I am out of work 30 weeks because of illegal immigration. I have three kids to feed," the man said. "That's bulls--t ... blame NAFTA, blame Clinton ... don't blame people just coming trying to get a job." No punches were thrown. A few more people crowded in, but the sides were separated and the police put up barricades as the camps of protestors dug in at their positions on opposite sides of 39th Street for the next hour or so. Through the rain and through the largely indifferent traffic, they shouted their slogans back and forth at each other. "Fascistas! Fascistas! Fascistas!" the counter-protestors, who had been joined by a large Hispanic contingent, yelled, while waving Mexican flags. "Amnistia! Amnistia! Amnistia!" The protestors, meanwhile, held up their signs, with slogans like, "This is our tsunami," and, "Mexican pride belongs in Mexico." "Why the Mexican flag?" I asked one counter-protestor, Armando Reyes, who was holding up a giant version of said flag. "Why the American flag?" was his -- wounded seems like the right word -- response, gesturing toward the other side of the street, where burly guys were waving the stars and stripes like an extended middle finger. "It stands for all immigrants," he said, gesturing now to the Mexican flag. "We're hard working," he said, now gesturing to his work boots. He works, he said, in construction. Ideally, of course, the American flag would stand for all immigrants, especially the hard-working ones who've braved many hardships and sacrifices to make it to, and make it in, the land of opportunity. But debates about what it means to be an American often bring out the very ugliest in our nation's character. And sometimes, hurt and rejected, tho[...]

Living With Cultural Federalism

Thu, 01 Jun 2006 08:30:08 -0600

Such recognition may already be creeping into the national consciousness when it comes to gay marriage. While a solid majority of Americans still oppose same-sex marriage (by a margin of 51-39 percent, according to a recent Pew survey), the country is split essentially 50-50 on the idea of writing a ban on gay marriage into the Constitution. That means that there are millions of Americans who, while ambivalent or opposed to gay marriage personally (at least in their own states), are happy to let what happens in Massachusetts stay in Massachusetts. Or, as a Gallup report issued earlier this month put it: "About a quarter of those who oppose making gay marriages legally valid (28%) nevertheless oppose a constitutional amendment banning them." Similarly, a poll commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign in April found that 49 percent of Americans favor letting states write their own laws on marriage. Why this acceptance of a "leave-it-to-the-states" approach? Perhaps an understanding is emerging in America that, as American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Greve put it, "You really don't want social policy in the Constitution." Greve, who mans a lonely outpost in the culture wars as head of AEI's Federalism Project, wrote a paper after the 2000 election calling on Republicans to remember their federalist faith when it comes to issues like abortion and marriage and drugs and guns - a faith forged during a time when liberals controlled the levers of national power - despite the temptations of holding the presidency, Congress and a working majority on the Supreme Court. Greve called the concept "cultural federalism." Professor Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, has called it "moral federalism." Republicans in Congress and the White House, however, just call it "Shirley" - as in, "Shirley, you can't be serious." "The Republican side of it has gone the other way," says Greve, almost six years after writing his paper, pointing to the Terri Schiavo intervention, the all-out battle against state medical-marijuana laws, the marriage amendment and, last but certainly not least, the No Child Left Behind Act (a "signal event" in the GOP's abandonment of federalism, one which people seriously "misunderestimated"). "Whatever commitment there was once to variegation and federalism" in the GOP, Greve says, "has been trampled underfoot." Democrats, meanwhile, staring down the barrel of three-branch Republican rule in Washington, D.C., have suddenly rediscovered the charm of the state capitals. But just because their commitment to federalism is purely tactical, that doesn't mean it's wrongheaded. "When people are divided over these things and the world is a mess, the notion that you can sort of pacify interest-group conflict by saying, 'Here's our substantive solution, and it's now in the Constitution,' is just highly idiotic and counterproductive," Greve says. We've tried it before in America, he points out. The Eighteenth Amendment set a policy on sin for the entire nation; the Twenty-First Amendment was needed to reverse Prohibition, but it didn't legalize alcohol everywhere, it simply sent the matter back to the states. Likewise, Roe vs. Wade has served as a de facto amendment to the Constitution, creating a right to abortion without the consultation of the public, leading to a 30-plus-year standoff with two sides armed to the teeth, waiting - literally - for judgment day. Attempting to etch a position on gay marriage into the Constitution at a time when Americans' attitudes are radically in flux - and when the divide is along generational lines, meaning the younger generation will want to wash away this ink befor[...]

Out of the Hot Tub, Into the Frying Pan

Wed, 17 May 2006 13:02:00 -0600

There was also a lot of blog response to the hot-tub libertarians column. I'll try to take the lines of argument one at a time. One line of argument is that the libertarians should abandon the GOP because it's too close to the Evangelical, "fundamentalist" wing of the Right. One blogger making this case is the Cranky Insomniac: Maybe I'm overly pessimistic, or maybe a significant slice of the "GOP forever" libertarians will suddenly decide that they don't have enough in common with other party elements to keep voting with them (as I did ten years ago, when I realized that "this party sucks," and split). But until this political Cialis takes effect, libertarians as a group will have about as much political clout as people who give Porter Goss as a reference. We might as well keep kickin' it in the hot tub. This is, of course, an extremely common view among libertarians: We don't have enough clout within the GOP, so let's not invest any energy in the GOP. The problem, though, is that this logic is circular. The GOP ignores libertarians because they're unengaged in politics, and they're unengaged in politics because the GOP ignores them. Libertarians can blame this on their numbers, but even the conservative estimate from Pew that they make up 9 percent of the American ideological spectrum robs them of such excuses. Libertarians are politically impotent because they're petulant and factious (and I say this as a libertarian), not because there aren't enough of them. Another line of argument is that libertarians should be pouring all of their energy into third-party politics, i.e. the Libertarian Party. That's the argument over at Hammer of Truth (where I'm accused of being a "conservative"): Other than playing lip service to the Second Amendment, when has the GOP been sensitive to individual rights? Is big-government conservatism the economic equivalent of the compassionate conservatism practiced by the GOP on homosexuals? There is but one natural home for libertarians: the Libertarian Party. However, it's understandable that many libertarians avoid the LP because of frequently embarrassing election results. ... [Sager is] half right. It is time to reclaim our libertarian roots, but the GOP is clearly not the answer. The time is now to form effective third-party and independent coalitions to get liberty-minded people elected to public office. Of course, the GOP has never been a libertarian paradise. But, as I go into in great detail in my forthcoming book, there has long been a "fusionist" bargain where limited-government conservatives and social conservatives understood that they needed each other and that they both ultimately wanted a smaller state. The biggest change in the GOP coalition has been the decision by a large segment of social conservatives (goaded by neoconservatives like David Brooks) to start looking at the federal government as a friend and not an enemy. Libertarian efforts should be spent on persuading social conservatives back to our side and organizing within the GOP as opposed to outside it. The last argument I'll deal with here is from Reason editor Nick Gillespie, who argues that the hot tub of real life is simply preferable to the cesspool of government and politics. It's a tempting idea and one that a lot of libertarians consciously or unconsciously buy into. And as an individual choice, it's fine. God knows not everyone finds immigration speeches and bridges to nowhere fascinating. But the business of governing is real life, and the outcomes of political fights will determine how much of our money is stolen in taxes, whether gay people can get married, whether cancer patients will risk arrest for using marijuana[...]