Go Right, Young Man, and Grow Up With the Country

manifest destinyAmong conservatives, there persists a wisdom that the solution for their electoral woes lies to the right, not the left. Clearer, cogently articulated partisanship is the solution, not moderation.

That may yet work in Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 23rd Congressional district, where right-wing activists traded a winning moderate for a winning extreme right-winger, but we must stress that that’s all they did. If Democratic candidate Bill Owens loses on Tuesday, it will be because he was always at a disadvantage, not because switching from a moderate Republican to an extremist somehow re-energized the base. Simply put, if militant right-winger Doug Hoffman wins on Tuesday, it will only prove that, in majority Republican districts, the party base will tolerate extremists. But that’s neither encouraging, nor capable of generalization to a nation that, on the whole, remains far to the left of people like Hoffman and Glenn Beck, his muse.

Should worst come to worst, and Doug Hoffman be the first Tea Party “Patriot” Congressman, it will not alter the fundamental reality that the Republicans need to embrace moderation before they can start winning again. As recent history illustrates, no American political party has ever found its way out of the wilderness by becoming more extreme. Reagan was more temperate and comforting than Goldwater; Clinton leveraged his Southern identity to supplement his moderate credentials; Obama avoids culture war issues or redefines them to his advantage; and, in England, Tony Blair jettisoned Labour’s socialist elements. But it just might convince the Republicans to move right for 2010, and surrender a few seats that could otherwise be theirs.

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41 comments

  1. Ames,
    You may be correct about history, but I wonder . . . in the day and age when, frankly, it’s hard to distinguish between the candidates of both parties (since everyone has raced to the center of late), would the increase in the move to the right actaully benefit the process by giving us two clear, distinct political views from which to choose?

  2. From Ames:

    “…it will not alter the fundamental reality that the Republicans need to embrace moderation before they can start winning again.”

    So I guess my first question is please define what a moderate Republican looks like in your eyes? And what separates the moderate Republican from the moderate Democrat (is there such a thing?)

    I find it pretty disingenious when dyed-in-the-wool liberals tell the Right they need to ‘moderate’ in order to win elections. i mean – really? Polling shows that more Americans self-identify as conservative than any other ideology. So if your position is that we need to moderate away from Glen Beck, well, you know my opinion on his true power within the party. If your position is that we need to moderate away from mainline conservatism…you’re nuts.

  3. Philip, that’s a good point. I think a tepid politics, like we had towards the end of Clinton, is probably a bad idea, as much for the lack of clash it generates as for the fact that it convinces people that politics don’t matter, and leads to leaders like Bush. I think there’s room for moderation, though, along culture war points. America could benefit from a fiscally conservative party, and one that included some hesitance to embrace new social causes, but the current structure of the Republican party is too far along both axes, opposed to any and all spending, with a knee-jerk reaction against any new social cause. Boo!

    Mike, the “people self-identify as conservative” thing is meaningless: it proves that the right has succeeded in labeling “liberalism” as not-preferred, but the Dems’ victories in 2006 and 2008, and the Republicans’ utter inability to function as true conservatives, ever, proves that the right has failed to give any structure to what “conservative” means. When your party polls as significantly below your ideology as Republicans do lately, it’s trouble.

    1. So – I’ll grant you that liberal is a dirty word (victory – Right). Still, you haven’t explained what a moderate Republican looks like. Arlen Specter?

    2. Dede. Too bad about her, though.

      1. So you prefer someone who arguably more liberal than her Democratic opponent? I’m curious, what about her makes her a Republican in your book?

  4. She won a Republican primary, she’s pro-gun rights and anti-health care reform. I don’t see what makes her not a Republican, unless to be a Republican, one must be anti-choice, anti-gay, appear regularly on talk radio, and call one’s opponents “socialists.”

    1. Ames – you’re losing credibility here. Even the Daily Kos thinks she’s a liberal:

      http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/10/1/12236/8760

      Let’s keep in mind that there are plenty of pro-gun, anti-public option Democrats. Dede would make a great Blue Dog, no doubt.

    2. That’s the point, isn’t it? Democrats are a big tent now, and Republicans are narrow and ideological.

      And your Kos article argues that the politics are fuzzy with both Dede and Bill: Dede’s farther left than she should be, and Bill’s farther right. But only one party’s machine threw their candidate under the bus.

      1. But you still aren’t explaining what makes her a REPUBLICAN. It seems you would prefer a very narrow difference between your Democrat and Republican candidates so voters can just flip a coin and not really see much difference. Honestly Ames, is that your vision for the country? A choice between two shades of liberal? Even I believe that we need a solid Left and a solid Right. I like giving voters true ideological choices and not two shades of gray.

        As for being ‘thrown under the bus’…are you going to try and claim that you won’t prefer more liberal challengers to Blue Dog seats in next year’s primaries? Why don’t you go on record now as saying that you oppose all liberal challenges to Blue Dog seats next year? Because they are sure as hell coming…

      2. Is there not a Republican equivalent to the Blue Dogs? As someone who averages out to a centrist (I’m not even going to try to pretend a lot of my stances on key issues are moderate, but that’s the beauty of the arithmetic mean), the Blue Dogs are the sort of Democrat most likely to produce a likeable candidate for me.

        Granted, I also like Deanian aggression…

        1. “As someone who averages out to a centrist…”

          Do you say that because half of your positions are liberal and half conservative? If so, I don’t think that means you are a Centrist. I would argue it just makes you an Independent. Most folks who are classified as Centrist don’t really hold truly Centrist views (i.e. mid-point between Left and Right). Usually they just hold conflicting liberal and conservative positions. We characterize them as the middle but they are far from it.

          1. Ok, then I’m an independent, although I don’t think “conflicting” is the right word unless the person holds liberal and conservative positions on the same topic. Topics that aren’t linked to each other are independent of each other, and so there’s no real way for a Left opinion on, say, abortion, to conflict with a Right opinion on, say, guns, since unless your opinions are based on some overarching principle (as with libertarians), they don’t have anything to do with each other. Holding the two means you don’t fit into the pigeonholes the two-party system tries to shove you into, but that’s not the same as the positions being in conflict with each other.

            1. ‘Conflicting’ was a poor choice of words – I just meant you have positions on both ends of the spectrum.

              1. Yeah, probably shouldn’t have jumped on you.

  5. But you still aren’t explaining what makes her a REPUBLICAN.

    Mike,
    so the fact thate she was the Republican Party nominee counts for nothing here? Come on . . .

    1. I can go down tomorrow and register as a Democrat. Does that make me one?

      1. In general, no, but if we assume you do so in good faith, then yes, it does. If you do it to vote for a spoiler in the Democratic primary, then that’s something different. But if you choose to register as a Democrat precisely instead of as a Republican or Independent, then I don’t see how it can mean anything else unless.

        But you’re really talking about candidates, and I assume the parties have control over who runs under their banner. Isn’t the RNC itself partly at fault for letting RINOs run?

        1. Absolutely – the RNC screwed up on letting her get that far. The drive to push her out did not come form the party – it came from an increasinly ticked off conservative faction.

        2. Not sure how “hijacked by an extremist base” is any better…

          1. It’s not just ‘extremist’. George Will, for example. Ross Douthat, as another. A lot of conservatives were opposed to Dede.Of course, it behooves liberals to position Dede as a sensible Republican and everyone else as loony…but it’s not accurate.

          2. Well, the fact is, someone like Dede would have a shot at national office. Your erstwhile hero, professional quitter Sarah Palin, turned from that path long ago, and similar-minded folks like Jindal and Pawlenty are rapidly joining her.

            1. Riiiiiiight. Because Dede would survive the Republican primary voters running for national office.

              Ames, what ARE you smoking up there in NYC?

              I’m curious whose hero you think Palin is? Mine? You know better? The majority of Republican voters? You need to do your homework.

            2. You were ALL about Palin not six short months ago!

              1. Ames – there is a certain point where you have to explain something to someone so many times that you question either their reading retention or their intelligence….

                I was pretty hype for Palin for about the first month after she was nominated. All of the stuff I had seen on her showed her to be very articulate on energy policy and i assumed that would translate to other areas. Obviously I was wrong and I have no problem admitting it now. While I now regret McCain’s choice, it seemed like a good idea at the time, especially given the disaffected Hillary voters. in retrospect I think he should have nominated Lindsay Graham or Lieberman. The only thing I will say inher defense now is that she probably would have still been a better VP than Biden.

    2. It makes sense that a conservative/moderate Democrat may be indistinguishable from a liberal/moderate Republican when considering their stances on various issues alone.

      But their party affiliation is an important consideration. It indicates who they will caucus with, who they are more likely to compromise with, and which direction they feel they lean in general.

      1. The problem is that no one trusted her to caucus with Republicans.

  6. Mike,
    Is that “noone in her district” trusted her to caucus with the Republicans, or “none in the conservative wing of the national party” trusted her to caucus with the Republicans? See, I think whihc it is has a huge impact. Too many “movement” conservatives and liberals spend too much time worrying about Congressional cuacuses, and not enough time worrying baout whether a particular person will, in fact, represent the interests of their District. They did down here in MD to Rep. Wayne Gilchrist last year – and in doing so handed a solidly moderate Republican seat to Democrats. The same hting may well happen in New York.

    Regardless, I take issue with the notion that a mdoerate, who may well represent her constituencey admirably and legitimately, should be driven off teh stage by one faction of one side of the political party system. Call her a RINO if that makes you feel better, but understand that with her withdrawal, the Republican Party is loosing a chance to lead – again.

    1. “Is that “noone in her district” trusted her to caucus with the Republicans, or “none in the conservative wing of the national party” trusted her to caucus with the Republicans?”

      Given the polling data, I would say both.

      “Regardless, I take issue with the notion that a mdoerate, who may well represent her constituencey admirably and legitimately, should be driven off teh stage by one faction of one side of the political party system.”

      Why? Was anything illegal done? This is politics. The conservative wing of the GOP has every right to try and force out candidates that seem to be closeted liberals. If they were doing something illegal, I’d be the first to protest, but I’m not going to ever complain about groups using the political process to their advantage.

      I’m also preparing myself for the hypocrisy when Ames starts advocating for primary challenges to Blue Dogs next year.

  7. The conservative wing of the GOP has every right to try and force out candidates that seem to be closeted liberals.

    Agreed – unless and until that puts people in office who don’t actually represent the views of the constituents. Remember that many of her biggest conservative detractors are NOT constituents in her District, but party operratives who work nationally. They are more concerned with a national political agenda then with adequate representation for N.Y.’s 23rd District. And I have an issue with that approach, regardless of the party in question.

    As to the Blue Dogs – given all the fawning over them with little to show for it – they are nearly as useless.

    1. But isn’t that for the voters to decide (how well their rep represents them?) And isn’t that a flaw of NY electoral law, not a fault of the national organizers? I’m honestly not to bothered by it. At the end of the day, if you’re running for Congress it’s because you want to play in national politics. So a national strategy makes sense.

      1. I don’t think Buckley v. Valeo would allow New York to ban involvement by non-New Yorkers in New York’s elections. I think it would be a good law for New York (and all states to have), to ban donations/rally appearances/advertising by out-of-staters, but I’m pretty sure it’d die spectacularly the second it got challenged in court.

  8. But isn’t that for the voters to decide (how well their rep represents them?)

    Exactly – and the voters have now been deprived, by that national conservative agenda, of the possibility of picking a moderate Republican.

    1. So the national conservative lobby stopped Dede from getting campaign funds? They intimidated voters into answering polls inaccurately? They blackmailed her into dropping out of the race?

  9. Unusually, I think I am with Mike here, even though I am so far left of him that I can only see him as a small speck on the horizon. The social democratic party of my home country has been bleeding voters and members for a long time, with the exception of the first Schröder government*, and has recently hit an all-time low.

    Why? Well, my interpretation is that they are not partisan enough, or to put it another way, they are so afraid of losing 5% of centrist voters that they are failing to represent the interests of their 30% traditional supporter base. Why vote social democrat instead of conservative if the social democrats make the exact same policy, i.e. cutting social services, i.e. not being socialist any more?

    Now, the German greens, free democrats (~libertarians in US terminology), left party, neo-fascists and conservatives, they all know that it is their damn job to represent the people who are voting for them, no matter how crazy or egoistical some of these voter bases are. Now none of them will probably ever get 60% of the vote (and all except the conservatives and left party will never exceed 15%), but they will reliably get the votes of their core supporters every single election, and they have a long term perspective. If you don’t like them, fine, vote something else.

    And this partisan approach is, in my eyes, how it should be, as this is also the only way it can work. A marketplace of ideas, of which you are so fond, needs a variety of ideas to work. If you can only chose between a conservative liberal and a liberal conservative at the ballot, then you are not only guaranteed to frustrate a lot of potential voters, but you will also run into trouble if your system actually needs radical reform.

    *This just shows that you can sometimes do the trick if you have the more charismatic candidate and/or if your opponents have completely run the country into the wall (sounds familiar?). But while this may work for one election, it is no long-term strategy, as next time the opposition may have the greater personality on their side, and you are then the incumbent.

    1. This approach works best in something like a parliamentary system with a multitude of parties. The pluralistic systems in the U.S. encourage a two party system, so when one party caters to its base at the expense of the middle, the risk is that the alienated voters go directly to the sole opposition party.

      1. The ‘middle’ respects genuiness much more than pandering. When they are feeling conservative, conservatives win. When they are feeling liberal, liberals when. I contend that they rarely ever feel ‘moderate’.

      2. @Kris:

        It is true that this works better with a multiple party system (which is one of the reasons I prefer such a system), but one aspect applies to the USA as well: if you cater too much to the centrists, you will not mobilize your base at election day. So the best a US party can hope for is perhaps to balance both approaches. Ames sees the Republicans failing to convince the center, I see my own party failing to convince its own base. The latter is, however, arguably the more vital point, because alienating your own base by not representing its interests once you are in power removes the whole raison d’être of your party and thus threatens its continued existence, while not catering to the center when it is leaning towards your opponents only loses you an election.

    2. To add to Mintman’s point I will say this:

      The problem with the whole assessment of what to do with moderates is the assumption that they are all Centrists…when they aren’t. Most so-called moderates are really just 50/50 voters. Half of their views are liberal and half are conservative. Now if you talk to some ‘moderate’ Republicans and describe that scenario they would say, “Since we’re split then that means we’re Centrist.” But that’s inaccurate. Their positions are not in the middle between Right and Left, they exist simultaneously on both ends of the spectrum.

      The truth is that when elections roll around and we talk about the mythical Center in American politics what we’re really talking about is Independents. But they are a really fickle bunch of voters. In 2004 they were more concerned about issues that conservatives were strong on. In 2008 they abandoned the Right because they felt Bush didn’t deliver. If Obama fails to do much between now and 2012, they will abandon ship again. At the end of the day they care most about how the government effects them and that’s why they are so damn unpredictable. A strategy that aims to capture them permanately is doomed to failure.

      So back to the moderates…We have this sort of annoying faction of folks within the GOP that are mostly just run-of-the-mill Rockefeller Republicans. They are liberal on social issues and conservative on a few hallmarks of the Right like guns and fiscal policy. The problem is that rather than call a spade a spade and admit they are social liberals, they use the vague term ‘moderate’ to describe their views that are out-of-sync with the base. I hate this because it implies that anyone to the Right of them is crazy. I’m sorry but opposition to abortion is not an ‘extreme’ position. It’s mainline conservatism. There are real moderate Republicans out there. John McCain is the best example. The folks trying to pass for moderates today are imposters.

      So the notion that we should appease moderate (re: socially liberal) Republicans as a way of making inroads into a fictitious Center is just not understanding politics. If we stay true to mainline conservative principles and deliver on those positions, we will be far more appealing to results-driven Independents than if we water down our message and accomplish nothing with an over-obsession about bipartisanship. As we saw with Sozzafava, ‘moderates’ are the first rats to jump ship when they don’t get their way. These guys mostly only care about social issues anyhow and Arlen Specter is sort of their role model. I can’t tell you how many I have heard threaten to leave the party because of this Scozzafava thing. I say good riddance. If we can’t depend on them, so why try to keep them around?

      1. If the socially liberal Republicans admitted to being such, would they be allowed to stay?

        1. I can’t speak for the whole party, but in my book they are welcome on one condition: stop whining because the party won’t move Left on social issues. I’m not saying that they can’t try to persuade, but they need to remember that they are choosing to join a conservative party and that means they probably aren’t going to talk us into suddenly becoming pro-choice or marching for gay marriage. And stop pretending they are the path to the mythical Center. At best they are the path to socially-liberal independents, but those guys can smell insincerity a mile away and I’m afraid any serious move to the middle on social issues by the GOP would be just that.

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