Which Path for the Right?

“The Right to Pee” by Daryl Cagle, CagleCartoons.com

Which path for the right?
By E.J. DIONNE JR.

WASHINGTON — I try to be hopeful about things. I long for a time when people on the left and the right might exchange opinions without assuming the very worst of each other. I don’t view conservatism as a form of psychosis, and would like conservatives to harbor the same attitude toward progressivism. Happy warriors are better than grim antagonists.

In the weeks since the election, my hopes have been buttressed by conservatives willing to say that since Republican candidates have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, new thinking might be in order. Democrats went through the same dismal cycle between 1968 and 1988, producing a reformation on the center-left. Conservatives are surely capable of the same.

For three decades, liberals were continually reacting to conservative criticisms. They regularly proclaim their love for markets, and Bill Clinton went so far as to declare that “the era of big government is over.” Now, finally, conservatives are responding to liberal insights — about rising inequality, about government’s proper role in the economy, about the utility of public action to promote social mobility. This is a promising sign.

Oh, yes, and conservatives realize they can’t win elections if they keep turning off Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and the young, particularly younger women. As one conservative friend said recently, “It’s not exactly a great approach to go to a Latino voter and say, ‘Well, we’d really rather you weren’t here, but we’d still like you to vote for us.’” The potential of a renaissance in conservative thought is enormous, if the right can overcome a certain intellectual laziness and inflexibility that, in fairness, have at other times afflicted the progressive side of politics.

There is, unfortunately, another school of thought on the right that rejects adjusting to a new electorate and to circumstances very different from the ones that Ronald Reagan inherited in 1980. Strategies for future victories are based on a naked use of government power to alter the political playing field in a way that diminishes the political influence of groups likely to be hostile to the conservative agenda.

The tea party movement cast itself as an authentic grass-roots expression of democracy, and in some ways it was. But the conservative legislatures it swept into office in so many states in 2010 took decidedly anti-democratic actions aimed at reducing the size of the electorate through a variety of voter suppression measures — hard-to-obtain voter IDs, shorter early voting periods, new barriers to voter registration drives, and long ballots that slowed the lines on Election Day. The U.S. Supreme Court, in the meantime, changed the rules about financing campaigns in the Citizens United decision, enhancing the sway of wealthy people and moneyed interests.

Now comes Michigan’s new right-to-work law passed on Tuesday in a travesty of normal democratic deliberation. This effort to weaken unions would be problematic in any event. The moral case for unions is that they give bargaining strength to workers who would have far less capacity to improve their wages and benefits negotiating as individuals. Further gutting unions is the last thing we need to do at a time when the income gap is growing.
But beyond that, the way Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican Michigan Legislature rushed right-to-work through a lame-duck session was insidious. The anti-union crowd waited until after the election to pass it. Snyder had avoided taking a stand on right-to-work until just last week when he miraculously discovered it would be a first-rate economic development measure. The law was included as part of an appropriations bill to make it much harder for voters to challenge it in a referendum.

The political motivation here is obvious. Union families are the premier cross-racial Democratic constituency. Nationwide, President Obama carried union households by 18 points, but non-union households by only one — a “union gap” of 17 points. In Michigan, the union gap was an astonishing 32 points: Obama won union households 66-33 percent, the rest of the electorate by 50-49 percent.

But the most disturbing aspect of the Michigan power grab is what it says about where the conservative argument may go. Those willing to expand the appeal of conservatism by refreshing it will face opposition from those who would try to make new thinking unnecessary. They’d simply rig the rules to chip away at the political capacity of groups that don’t buy into conservative orthodoxy.

A movement dedicated to markets should have more confidence in democracy’s free market of ideas and stop trying to distort it.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. (c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

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Author: E.J. DIONNE, JR., WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST

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8 Comments

  1. The blatant use of power to crush unions and to suppress voting would probably normally fly under the radar if it weren’t so ham-handed. These moves will undoubtedly backfire on Republicans in future elections.

    In the meantime, the AG looking at voter suppression and the groups bringing in-state lawsuits about the constitutionality of the abuse of power evident in these machinations will shed even more light on their actions.

    Opponents said quick passage of the bills in the Legislature ā€” outside the normal committee process and without public hearings ā€” was unconstitutional because citizens didn’t have a chance to weigh in.

    Two lawsuits have been filed claiming the Open Meetings Act was violated when the Michigan State Police temporarily put the Capitol on lockdown during Thursday’s legislative debate. One of the lawsuits was filed by the Michigan Education Association, which also won an emergency injunction to order the Capitol reopened.

    A hearing has not been scheduled in the case, attorney Art Przybylowicz said.

    “We’re waiting for the court to strike down all the actions that took place while the building was shut down.” Przybylowicz said, noting both chambers took actions on the bills during the lockdown.

    The other Open Meetings Act lawsuit was filed by Detroit activist Robert Davis. A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday in Ingham County Circuit Court. Davis said the court could decide to consolidate the two Open Meetings Act cases.

    “There were no hearings, no committee meetings that would allow the people to voice their concerns ā€¦ and that’s problematic,” Davis said.

    http://www.detroitnews.com/art.....212120358/

  2. The GOP has a strategy that will no longer work. They successfully managed, led by the Big Money Types(tm), to get the votes of scared, angry white guys, and the evangelicals, both groups that lets face it are easily manipulated by talking points that speak more to their gut instincts than reality. And boy did they massage their talking points with that in mind. This used to be a winning strategy. That was a powerful combination of money and enthusiasm. In addition to this, they have shamelessly worked the system by gerrymandering and attempting to suppress minority voter turnout. However, recently this is no longer a winning combination. Sure, they can keep Congressional seats that way to a fair degree, but they lose in the Senate and most obviously in the Oval Office.

    This strategy is a hard one to back down from without destroying your credibility. But that is exactly what the GOP has to do. They need to quit getting their base motivated with things like Obama is a socialist Muslim coming for your guns and if you don’t want that we need to lower taxes and deregulate, and start getting them motivated with things a little more in touch with reality. That is going to come as a hard pill to swallow for much of their base. Specifically the 20 MILLION that listen to Rush and think he’s really got his finger on the pulse of things. These are not people used to dealing with reality. These are people used to being told comforting lies that mesh well with their insecurities and feelings about how the world should be. The GOP has a hard, uphill road rebuilding their brand. I seriously, honestly, wish them luck and success on that road. This country would benefit greatly by them getting to the end of it.

  3. No unions are not all angels which is why I never joined one. They’re kind of like that brother-in-law that drives you crazy with his ideological rants but takes good care of your sister and their kids so you put up with him.

  4. Ohio, you had a choice? My wife and I both had to join, no choice.
    And, every election, we get calls and mailings pushing Dems, which we ain’t.

  5. It is a mistake to conflate conservatism with modern Republicanism as this article appears to do. Simply because Republicans give lip service to conservative ideas such as fiscal responsibility and small government doesn’t mean that they actually are conservative. Ever since Ronald Reagan, Republicans have shown by their actions that they in fact favor larger government paid for by future generations. There is nothing conservative about these positions.

    Does any serious observer doubt what would have happened if Romney had been elected? He would have gotten a big portion of his politically easy tax-rate cut and increase in defense spending, while the politically difficult loophole closing offsets and spedning decreases would have been miniscule by comparison.

  6. dd

    When you’re in a field that has a limited supply, I guess there’s no need for a union – you get paid well and get good bennies (or go self-employed and make your own bennies). My teacher brother-in-law always thought teachers should make their own contractual agreements which would weed out the drones. Still, that’s not the way things work so he joined a union. Much good it did him, since Gov. Snyder is wiping out all the benefits they were promised – now he’s helping wipe out the union itself.

    So – you get good wages and bennies? And you can still vote your choice? What’s not to like? I’m sure you are voting for candidates that will protect those benefits.

  7. Ohio, “Iā€™m sure you are voting for candidates that will protect those benefits.” Not so.
    Retired from work and unions, but my wife an ex-teacher gets the Dem solicitations. I was in a white collar technical job, but the plant was unionized. Then switched to a white collar career and there no unions.
    IMHO, unions are both good and bad, depending on the circumstances and are from another era and maybe not as good as they were.

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