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Why Michael Smerconish should remain Republican

Philly’s Michael Smerconish is making a splash this morning with his column announcing that he’s leaving the Republican Party after 30 years. And some of what he says makes sense:

The national GOP is a party of exclusion and litmus tests, dominated on social issues by the religious right, with zero discernible outreach by the national party to anyone who doesn’t fit neatly within its parameters. Instead, the GOP has extended itself to its fringe while throwing under the bus long-standing members like New York Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, a McCain-Palin supporter in 2008 who told me she voted with her Republican leadership 90 percent of the time before running for Congress last fall.

Which is not to say I feel comfortable in the Democratic Party, either. Weeks before Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh’s announcement that he will not seek reelection, I noted the centrist former governor’s words to the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib. Too many Democrats, Bayh said in that interview, are “tone-deaf” to Americans’ belief that the party had “overreached rather than looking for consensus with moderates and independents.”

Where political parties once existed to create coalitions and win elections, now they seek to advance strict ideological agendas.

I’d say it a little differently. Something like: Where political parties once existed to create coalitions and win elections, they now exist just to win elections. The Democrats can’t actually execute their ideological vision, and the Republicans are only effective at pursuing the guns-and-bombs portion of their platform — the whole “party of fiscal restraint” mantra having long since been discredited.

But Smerconish is right that both the parties have become more ideologically homogeneous. And he clearly sees this as a problem. Which is why his solution — to register as an independent — doesn’t make any sense. It’s actually going to make the problem worse. Smerconish:

I will miss casting a ballot in the spring, as current state election law prohibits unaffiliated voters from voting in GOP or Democratic primary elections. Instead, I’ll join the others who bide their time until fall, when we can temper the extremes of both parties.

Here’s the thing: Fall is way, way too late to temper the extremes of both parties. Because independent voters can’t vote in the primary elections, that leaves only the most ideologically committed voters left to select their party’s nominee. Independent voters only have the extreme options to pick from at that point. In 2004, Arlen Specter narrowly won the GOP nomination over Pat Toomey — but in the following years, a huge chunk of the party’s moderates fled for independent and Democratic pastures. Specter left the GOP, leaving this year’s nomination by default to Toomey, a much more ideologically rigid conservative.

Michael Smerconish’s problem is that the parties are too ideologically narrow. But by leaving the Republican Party, he accelerates that process. He might not feel entirely comfortable in the GOP these days, but he’d have more of a shot at solving the problems he describes by staying.

Gallup poll: Democrats love socialism

According to the Gallup poll, 53 percent of them do. I’ve already seen one Republican-leaning friend trumpet this result on his Facebook page. And my response to him is the same that I had for the “crazy Republican” poll we saw earlier this week: Beware polls that too neatly confirm your biases.

In this case, it’s pretty easy to look past the scary headline and realize that Dems don’t secretly love Chairman Mao. Here’s the baseline question:

“Socialism” you’ll note, isn’t really defined here. It’s not hard to imagine that a number of Democrats and left-leaning independents heard the question and thought of European social democracy — where private enterprise is still firmly in private hands, but where there’s a pretty ample safety net for the poor and infirm.

Indeed, dig deeper into the Gallup poll and you find that Democrats don’t differ that much from Republicans on some key findings: 95 percent of Dems view small business in a positive light; 85 percent laud free enterprise; 82 percent like entrepreneurs.

Then again, only 53 percent of Democrats say they like “capitalism.” But small businesses, free enterprise and entrepreneurs are the stuff of capitalism. How does all of this square. I’m not sure. But again: It’s easy to imagine that a number of Democrats heard the question and thought of Wall Street bankers handing out big bonuses on the taxpayer dime. “Socialism” and “capitalism” cover rather broad categories, but when you get to the nuts and bolts of this poll, Dems and Republicans aren’t that different on some of the key issues.

The main difference, really, is that Dems have a much more positive view of the federal government. Now Republicans might grumble about that. But having a positive view of federal government is not the same thing as being socialist. The headline is misleading, but the headline’s the only thing that most people are going to hear.

(Hat tip: Deregulator)

Health care bill passes the Senate

I find that health reform is something about which I don’t have much, if anything, original to say. That’s probably a damaging admission for any Aspiring Pundit, but it’s true. That said, I’m heartened to see that the Senate passed its version of the health reform bill last night. And while I suspect the bill is far from perfect, I also believe it goes a long way toward the goal of ensuring wider access to health care than currently exists.

A conservative friend Tweeted last night that “Dems have no clue what populist hell they’ve just unleashed in this nation,” as though we didn’t just live through the Summer of Death Panel Obamahitler Screaming. And Atrios might be right that the compromises involved in getting the bill to 60 votes will make it so noxious to voters that Democrats will take a major hit.

But I suspect that Paul Krugman is right. He blogs about President Obama:

But on health care, I don’t see how he could have gotten much more. How could he have made Joe Lieberman less, um, Liebermanish? And I have to say that much as I disagree with Ben Nelson about many things, he has seemed refreshingly honest, at least in the final stages, about what he will and won’t accept. Meanwhile the fact is that Republicans have formed a solid bloc of opposition to Obama’s ability to do, well, anything.

Some of my commenters have argued that even with this bill Democrats may well lose seats next year — possibly even more than they would have without it. Definitely on the first point; on the second, I don’t think people realize just how damaging it would be if Obama didn’t get any major reforms passed. But in any case, that misses the point. The reason to pass reform, even inadequate reform, now isn’t to gain seats next year; it is to pass reform, which will do vast good, during the window that’s available. If it doesn’t pass now, it will probably be many nears before the next chance.

Right. We vote people in to do certain things, but often they don’t do things because doing things might make it harder for them to retain power. But what’s the point of helping them retain power if they won’t use it to do those certain things? The Democrats will likely lose seats in 2010 — that was probably going to happen anyway, given the history of midterm elections. As somebody who cares more about health reform than the electoral prospects of Democrats, I’m willing to sacrifice some of the latter to get a bit of the former. Otherwise, what’s politics for?

Yet *another* year of the angry white male?

Funny how that keeps happening every time a Democrat is elected president:

For all the feelgood Obama was supposed to bring about, a bipartisan study from George Washington University says 20 percent of Americans describe themselves as “angry” about “the way things are going in the country today,” and Republican pollster Ed Goeas says the enraged underclass could change the game in 2010. “There is the potential for this being a 1994 year of the angry white male,” Goeas said, citing Republicans’ underdog capture of both the House and Senate in the middle of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Though only 5 percent of Democrats describe themselves as “angry,” 26 percent of independents and 33 percent of Republicans do.

Tonight, Barack Obama betrays Michael Moore

It’s a sign of something, I suppose, that even when I agree with Michael Moore I still find him irritating. So it goes with his open letter to President Obama, urging the president to call off his proposed troop increase in Afghanistan and instead bring the soldiers home.

Choose carefully, President Obama. You of all people know that it doesn’t have to be this way. You still have a few hours to listen to your heart, and your own clear thinking. You know that nothing good can come from sending more troops halfway around the world to a place neither you nor they understand, to achieve an objective that neither you nor they understand, in a country that does not want us there. You can feel it in your bones.

I know you know that there are LESS than a hundred al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan! A hundred thousand troops trying to crush a hundred guys living in caves? Are you serious? Have you drunk Bush’s Kool-Aid? I refuse to believe it.

Your potential decision to expand the war (while saying that you’re doing it so you can “end the war”) will do more to set your legacy in stone than any of the great things you’ve said and done in your first year. One more throwing a bone from you to the Republicans and the coalition of the hopeful and the hopeless may be gone — and this nation will be back in the hands of the haters quicker than you can shout “tea bag!”

I agree: Continued war in Afghanistan is not worth the blood or (non-existent) treasure we’ll spend there. Still, you’ve got to ask Michael Moore a serious question: What did you expect?

It’s true that Barack Obama campaigned in 2008 against the Iraq War. But he also campaigned on fighting the Afghanistan War more effectively than President Bush. He was very explicit about this. Anti-war liberals should not be surprised, but they are — probably, I think, because they expected his “tough on Afghanistan” rhetoric was just a ploy to seem tough in case his GOP opponents decided to deploy the standard “surrender monkey” campaign against him.

We keep doing this to Obama. He told us in the campaign that he didn’t believe in marriage rights for gays and lesbians, yet there has been a constantly repeated hope — in referendums in California and Maine — that he might lend his voice in support of gay marriage campaigns. It never happens. And liberals end up surprised, again. There are other examples of this sort of thing.

During the campaign, Republicans warned us that we didn’t know the real Barack Obama — that he’d take office and reveal the radical-almost-Communist reality beneath the moderate mask. The heck of it is that liberals apparently suspected nearly the same thing. But everybody was wrong.

Barack Obama will surprise us on occasion by taking more moderate or more conservative stands than we expected. He will never, ever surprise us by doing something more liberal than we expected. He was never trying to win over the Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party. And he still isn’t. We shouldn’t be surprised.

The difference between MSNBC and Fox News

Whereas Fox News’ bread-and-butter is criticizing President Obama, the liberals at MSNBC … criticize President Obama:

While much attention has been paid to the feud between the Fox News Channel and the White House, the Obama administration is now facing criticism of a different sort from Ms. Maddow, Keith Olbermann and other progressive hosts on MSNBC, who are using their nightly news-and-views-casts to measure what she calls “the distance between Obama’s rhetoric and his actions.”

While they may agree with much of what Mr. Obama says, they have pressed him to keep his campaign promises about health care, civil liberties and other issues.

“I don’t think our audience is looking for unequivocal ‘rah-rah,’ ” said Ms. Maddow, who calls herself a liberal but not a Democrat.

Truth be told, I can barely watch Keith Olbermann. I find Maddow more palatable, but not enough to catch her show every night. But MSNBC isn’t just the leftward version of Fox News; it has conservative hosts on its air, and its liberals are more willing to go after one of their own.

Poll: Americans love Republicans more than Democrats

New York Daily News:

For the first time in years, the GOP has the lead in generic ballot preferences over Democrats. That is, if people are asked whether they’ll vote for an unnamed Democrat or Republican for Congress, 48% are saying they’ll back the Republican, versus 44% who will choose the Democrat.

A lot is driven by the economy, and it’s mostly independents fleeing Democrats. Back in July, independents were about evenly split. Now they favor the Republican Party by a huge 22-point margin.

I’ve got no explanation or spin for this: The Democrats are running things now and, so far, they’re not making people very happy. When you run the show, you gotta deliver. And despite the president’s efforts, most people aren’t going to care that things are getting worse more slowly. They want better. Better is what you’re going to have to deliver if you want to keep power.

What did tea partiers accomplish in NY-23?

That’s the topic of my column this week with Ben Boychuk. To recap: “tea party” conservatives in that New York congressional district managed to drive a moderate Republican out of the race — and ended up handing the seat to a Democrat in a district that has long sent the GOP to congress. As I write in the column, we’ve seen this story before:

For a good idea of what tea party activism might accomplish, take a good look at Kansas.

It’s about as Republican a state as they come. It last went for a Democratic presidential candidate in 1964. And the GOP has 300,000 more registered voters than its Democratic rivals. But the state’s governor is a Democrat. So is the attorney general.

How in the heck did that happen? Easy. The Republican Party in Kansas tore itself in two, between center-right “moderates” and conservative true believers. The infighting has been going on for more than a decade, leaving voters alienated and giving Democrats opportunities for electoral wins in a state they have no business contesting.

That looks similar to events in New York. The district there had sent moderate Republicans to Congress forever — its last congressman, John McHugh , crossed party lines to work as President Obama’s Secretary of the Army. But when the GOP establishment picked a similarly centrist Republican to run for office, the tea party folks rebelled and backed a different candidate. Who lost.

The tea party movement started as the biggest expression of sore loserdom in America’s recent political history. George W. Bush had expanded “socialized medicine” — in the form of the new Medicare drug benefit — and turned a budget surplus into a deep deficit. Yet the tea partiers only took to the streets when a Democrat was elected president. It’s not difficult to figure out what motivated them.

So the fact that tea partiers are now holding Republicans to account is refreshing. But parties that insist on ideological purity are usually losers at the ballot box; Democrats began their recent comeback when centrists like Sens. Jim Webb and Bob Casey joined their cause. Tea partiers should heed the lesson if they want to win.

No, seriously: Time to kick Joe Lieberman out of the Democratic caucus

Exactly what do Democrats gain by keeping him in?

Sounding more like an independent than a Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., tells ABC News he will campaign for some Republican candidates during the 2010 midterm elections and may not seek the Democratic Senate nomination when he runs for re-election in 2012.

“I probably will support some Republican candidates for Congress or Senate in the election in 2010. I’m going to call them as I see them,” Lieberman said in an ABC News “Subway Series” interview aboard the U.S. Capitol Subway System.

So, Harry Reid: Joe Lieberman is working against you on domestic priorities. He’s against you on foreign policy priorities. And he’s stumping against your candidates. What’s the upside?

Joe Lieberman will join Republican filibuster of health reform. He should just join the Republicans already.

Politico:

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Tuesday that he’d back a GOP filibuster of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s health care reform bill.

Lieberman, who caucuses with Democrats and is positioning himself as a fiscal hawk on the issue, said he opposes any health care bill that includes a government-run insurance program — even if it includes a provision allowing states to opt out of the program, as Reid’s has said the Senate bill will.

It’s time for Democrats to kick Lieberman out of the Democratic caucus and strip him of every perk of seniority he gets from them.

He’s with Republicans on the war. He’s with them in the presidential campaign — he was almost the GOP vice presidential nominee! — and now he’s with them on the most significant domestic policy debate of this generation. I wouldn’t suggest kicking him out if he was merely voting against the public option. The fact that he’s willing to filibuster, however, means he’s of no use to Democrats whatsoever. Get rid of him.