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Posted by on Apr 28, 2009 in Politics | 44 comments

Knee-Capping: Why the Club for Growth Does It (And Why It Will Never Work)

My colleagues here at The Moderate Voice – many of them moderate Republicans of the Arlen Specter ilk – have eloquently explained the larger significance of Specter’s defection from the Republican Party. I want to focus on the Pat Toomey angle. More to the point: why does the Club for Growth consistently “knee-cap” its own moderates in the GOP, knowing full well that the primary winner will almost assuredly get destroyed by a Democrat?

It happened in my former district (MI-07) when the CFG knocked off Joe Schwarz and put wingnut extremist Tim Walberg in power…only to lose the seat to Democrat Mark Schauer the next election. It happened in MD-01 when Andy Harris knocked off Wayne Gilchrest, allowing Frank Kratovil to take the conservative Eastern Shore district. It even happened in northern Idaho, where Walt Minnick, a Democrat, defeated CFG star Bill Sali in 2008. In the Rhode Island Senate race in 2006, the CFG nearly eliminated Lincoln Chafee, thereby weakening him for the general election match against Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.

And so former CFG head Pat Toomey put Arlen Specter in his sights – a job made easier with the defection of 200,000 moderate Republicans from the party registration lists since 2004. Toomey would have crushed Specter in the GOP primary…and gotten mauled by any number of Democrats (Sestak, Schwartz, Murphy to name a few) in the general election.

The big question is: why does the Club for Growth do this? Surely they know that they have contributed to a shrunken Republican Party – especially in the Northeast and Midwest. They aren’t just a gang of purity trolls in the blogosphere either; the left produces all manner of CFG-wannabes on Daily Kos calling for the heads of moderate Democrats (with Joe Lieberman as the only scalp). Unlike the liberal purists, the CFG has real money that it can ram into these campaigns. They play for keeps, and the national GOP is decidedly ambivalent about their influence in the party (some, like Gingrich, see them as true conservatives keeping the party rooted and others, like Mike Huckabee, call them the “Club for Greed”).

The reason they do this is simple: they believe that once the nation discovers the true horrors of Barack Obama’s left-wing socialist extremism and the destruction of the American way of life, voters will come back in droves to the Republican Party. And voters will only do that if the party has itself purged its wayward souls whose moderation is, of course, the only reason for Republican losses in 2006 and 2008.

Yes, they really believe that.

Even non-CFG conservatives like Newt Gingrich believe this. These Reagan Relics believe that that tea partiers represented a massive groundswell of opposition to Obama’s supposed radicalism. Once the public’s blinders are removed – hopefully with the help of the non-mainstream media that refuses to cover for Obama – the electorate will come to its senses and restore the great Era of Reagan again.

So, what’s wrong with this strategy? Isn’t the Long March approach taken by Republicans in 1964 necessary to prepare the party for a principled comeback to power? Won’t voters always vote the Democrat if opposed by a Democrat-lite? Won’t voters realize what a mistake they made in putting this cabal of radical leftists in power in Washington?

Well, there are a few big problems with this strategy.

1) It is transparently obvious that this strategy only succeeds if the Obama Administration fails miserably. And hoping for failure puts actual Republican politicians in all kinds of trouble (e.g. Limbaugh apologetics). Once the public picks up on the idea that the opposition is hoping for failure so that it can claw back into power, the opposition looks less viable. “Standing for conservative principles” begins to look like the “party of no”, when the public has just elected Democrats to power in two straight elections.

2) The American public just doesn’t believe in Reaganite conservatism anymore. Period. Reagan conservatism spoke to the particular political reality of 1980 America – years of stagflation, military demoralization, rising crime, bureaucratic ossification, Carterian incompetence, Sunbelt expansion, Reagan’s charisma, etc. In 1994, the GOP could make the same claim about Congress – too long it had been in the hands of increasingly corrupt Democrats who continued to stifle much of the still-popular Reagan agenda (including, especially, welfare reform). But after eight years in which the GOP controlled the White House and, for the most part, Congress, support for the conservative Republican agenda has cratered. I’ve mentioned elsewhere the importance of welfare reform in defanging much of the small-government conservative critique. Rove and Bush pressed for a big government, social conservatism largely because it was the only electable option after 1996. The problem was that it turned off the entire Northeast and Midwest, leaving the party in a Mormon-Dixie rump. Meanwhile, the country has turned to the Democrats to solve virtually all of the nation’s domestic problems, including health care, energy, education and even taxes. The financial collapse has only further strengthened calls for a more vigorous and interventionist government. The Reaganite refrain: Small government and low taxes just doesn’t appeal to the majority anymore.

So, even if the Democrats did fail spectacularly, it’s not likely that the Republicans would gain. If they did (as the Democrats did after Watergate in 1974), it wouldn’t last because the electorate rejects the conservative Republican ideology.

3) It furthers what Nate Silver calls the Republican Death Spiral, wherein the only survivors of the CFG purges are hard-right ideologues. And that small and decreasing percentage of American still willing to identify as Republicans will only demand the party move further to the right. The Club for Growth then effectively takes over the party. In the process, the most outspoken leaders are certifiable nutjobs like Michelle Bachmann who utterly repel 75% of the country. The base becomes more marginalized and paranoid, wondering when the nation will “snap out of it” – while carrying on more bizarre escapades like teabagging or worse. It’s a self-fulfilling process as the GOP gets locked in by the value set of a demographically dwindling regional minority. More importantly, it makes the party even less able to capitalize on inevitable Democratic overreach or foulups.

I have no idea what will turn this around. The Democratic Party can and will overreach. It will make genuinely significant mistakes. But can a purged GOP take advantage? If not, when will the moderates who don’t care for the Democratic base but who find the GOP repulsive form a viable third party movement to stand as the opposition?


Patrick Edaburn: A Little Specter of History

Patrick Edaburn: The Pundits On Specter Shift

Cagle Cartoons: Specter Splits

Jerry Remmers: News You Can Swear By

Joe Gandelman: Did Arlen Specter Take This Philadelphia Journalist’s Advice?

Cagle Cartoons: Specter Flu

Jazz Shaw: Party Purification By Fire

Joe Gandelman: Specter Switches To Democratic Party: Potential Democratic Filibuster-Proof Senate Closer (Includes Roundup)

Patrick Edaburn: Memo To Republicans: A Pure Minority Is Still A Minority

Holly Robinson: GOP Losing Its Last Jewish Senator, Moderate Arlen Specter of PA

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  • StockBoySF

    “In the process, the most outspoken leaders are certifiable nutjobs like Michelle Bachmann who utterly repel 75% of the country. The base becomes more marginalized and paranoid, wondering when the nation will “snap out of it”…”

    Well, yes… And I think many Republicans (not the leaders, but the people) feel powerless. They see a changing America and they don’t feel they have any input. Unfortunately this is their own doing because they elect ideologues who further alienate the country.

    If the Republicans (people, not leaders) insisted that their elected officials negotiate with the Dems, then the Republicans would get some of what they want.

    But instead they listen to their leader, Limbaugh, who demonizes the Dems as traitors and tells the Republicans they are right and they need to take back the country from the Dems (or socialists, or commies, or fascists or whatever word they come up with that day).

    So unfortunately it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for Republicans…. Because they are so rigid in their beliefs that they are right they feel that they must not compromise, which leads to more moderate people being repelled by them.

    Obama has tried to get the GOP to come on board, and GOP members (such as Specter) have tried to remain moderate within the GOP, and the GOP will have none of it.

    Specter leaving the GOP perfectly shows that the GOP is just blindly thrashing about, with no long-term plans. Today they probably talked with the other moderates to make sure they would stay in the party. Perhaps now the other GOP moderates have some breathing room to vote how they want, as long as they stay in the party. But who knows what will happen in a year, particularly if the right wing of the GOP decides then that they need to make an even harder push to get the “right” people in power and the moderates are too leftists.

  • mikkel

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think what will happen is what I first started believing after the 06 election:

    The Republicans will continue to purge and get smaller and more radical and get more and more marginalized…I predicted after this election that we’d start to see a ton of very very angry and perhaps even violent sentiment amongst the GOP base, but I didn’t imagine that secession talk would come from major elected officials.

    The economy will get really really bad and be a depression, but not quite a Great Depression.

    I see the Republicans taking huge losses in 2010 as they are railing against government in a time where it will be the only thing supporting tens of millions of people, and it will come to a head in 2012 where they nominate someone crazy for President. A Huckabee type is the best case as he’s at least very likeable and respectable as a person, even if his politics are rather extreme.

    The 2012 election will see a huge landslide for Obama and a neutral for Congress.

    Meanwhile, the inevitable consequences and corruption from such a large role of the government in the economy and extreme power disparity — combined with the economy having stabilized and people looking to rebuild rather than terrified — will result in lots of anti-government sentiment and either the creation of a new party or most likely, a big shift back towards Republicans, as the moderate Republicans and recent defectors go back into the party and kick out the bums. This will lead to the Democrats’ margin becoming smaller and most likely a Republican president in 2016…and I think the Republicans will be very Eisenhoweresque, end the hot button social war, winding down what will be a gigantic welfare state, etc.

  • Janjanjan

    “Rove and Bush pressed for a big government, social conservatism largely because it was the only electable option after 1996.” This sounds very logical and makes a nice narrative, but I don’t see evidence that this is true. Can you provide a detailed rationale?

    • elrod

      That’s been my argument for a while now, and I base it on my own assessment of GOP strategy after the Clinton-Dole contest. I don’t have quotes from Rove to back it up, or statistics. But I have a strong hunch – and, yes, it is still a strong hunch – that this is true.

      People today forget just how pivotal that welfare reform law was. Race was the most polarizing issue in American partisan politics going back to 1948. Nearly every election turned in some significant way on racial issues – civil rights, busing, affirmative action, crime, drugs, riots, etc. The 1996 welfare reform law took racial issues off the national agenda and made the ascendancy of Barack Obama possible.

      As for Republican strategy, the best explanation for the rise of “compassionate conservatism” is the substitution of vaguely evangelical politics for the old politics of “law and order” that propelled Bush Sr. to power in 1988 is the declining salience of welfare and crime as national issues. Lower-middle class whites traditionally voted Democratic because they gained much from the FDR-style government – as long as they didn’t perceive their tax dollars as going to the undeserving (and usually black) poor.

  • BBQ

    Things go in cycles. It’s only be recently that Southern Dems have comeback but at the same time they don’t even need them anymore. Also remember in 2004 when everyone was saying the Dems were just a coastal party?

    Right now I see the GOP getting close to 1984 Mondale numbers for 2012. As long as the economy isn’t completely did and the wars aren’t in the news everyday (bad news) than Obama should win in a landslide. I agree with Mikkel that it will be 2016 at the very earliest for the GOP to get it’s act together. But it’s not like the Dems have always been welcoming of moderates, remember when Casey’s dad wasn’t allowed to speak because he was pro-life? I see MoveOn providing the same hardline purges as CFG. They do have the money and are gaining the influence, it will just take sometime. A couple more votes from Byah’s crew and they will be on full court press in 2010, especially if they feel the GOP is dying.

  • kritt11

    To answer your question, Elrod, I believe that Club for Growth tells its members that they are standing up for the bedrock principles of the party. Moderates like Specter present a huge threat to CFG because they often work with the majority, instead of automatically obstructing them.

    Staunch conservatives believe that even if their actions give the Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, eventually Democratic policies will fail, and the GOP will reap the benefits of that failure. This hasn’t been working for them so far, and I believe it will continue to backfire. If Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are driven over to the Democrats, the GOP will further its transition into a regional party that only wins elections in southern states.

  • senor

    What I don’t understand is why, when the Dems were in this fix in the 80s there was no hue and cry for them to “moderate” their views as there is now with the GOP. In fact, it was just the opposite: we could not expect them to give up their “core values” no matter how marginalized they became. This was code, of course, for abortion. So they did expand–rhetorically, and allowed people like Bob Casey and Jim Webb in, who talked a good game, but who had 0 chance of actually changing the party. The Democrats “moderation” has been rhetorical, not substantive, and maybe that’s what the Republicans need to do. The difference is (and this is huge no matter how much Elrod likes to ridicule it) that there really is an established corporate media culture which will cover for the Dems and won’t for the GOP, and it is a culture which still easily drowns out talk radio and any other conservative outlet. I live in the South, which is rapidly becoming, as it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a colony for the rest of the country. That’s ok with me; Apparently even The New Yorker has come out for our independence. I agree that the country “just doesn’t believe in Reaganite conservatism any more.” Actually it never has. H.L. Mencken had it right 82 years ago “The average man doesn’t want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.” And since 1932, the Democratic Party has mastered the art of making people feel safer even if at the expense of the most fundamental freedom we have: the freedom to fail.

    • $199537

      What I don’t understand is why, when the Dems were in this fix in the 80s there was no hue and cry for them to “moderate” their views as there is now with the GOP. In fact, it was just the opposite: we could not expect them to give up their “core values” no matter how marginalized they became. This was code, of course, for abortion.

      The 80’s Democrats did moderate their views, at least Clinton did. Have you forgotten the whole triangulation strategy?

      And I think Clinton and Rubin really did try to keep spending under control, although they were forced to to a large extent by the GOP congress.

      I think it’s an apples and oranges comparison though. The country is still receptive to fiscal responsibility (at least I hope they are, if they’re not we’re toast) but becoming less receptive to social conservatism. To me the decision is pragmatic – either the GOP falls on its sword demanding the party adheres 100% to its social conservatism or it finds a middle ground and survives.

      • senor

        Clinton moderated the party’s voice; he didn’t really moderate the
        views. I mean, for heaven’s sake he twice vetoed a ban on partial
        birth abortion; the only reason he dropped his huge (for the time)
        stimulus package in 93 was because he didn’t have the votes in the
        Senate. And who can forget gays in the military? I guess I’m a
        homophobic bigoted troglodyte, but that’s not moderate to me. I’m not
        sure the country is receptive to fiscal conservatism or even small
        government. I happen to agree with Mencken: in the choice between
        freedom and security we will take security every time; witness the
        Patriot Act. On the social issues, I am somewhat nuanced (I believe
        most of these issues may be political rights, but not constitutional
        rights), but I am convinced that nuance is unwinnable in most of
        these cases–which speaks terribly of the intelligence of the American
        people. For example, I do know that in every poll I’ve seen, 55-60% of
        the American people oppose gay marriage, but I haven’t heard any
        Democrat anywhere say they support state laws banning it; in fact most
        of them, including our President, say just the opposite. Have the
        Republicans emphasized social issues too much? Yes. Did Bush damn
        near destroy the party by his refusal to veto any spending bills and
        by taking us to war for reasons that turned out not to be true? Yes.
        Do the Republicans deserve to be in the wilderness for a while? Yes.
        I still don’t think that means they abandon core principles like small
        government (it’s going to take a long time before anybody believes
        them on that again if they ever do) or reasonable positions on social
        issues. What is “reasonable?” Well, if you had asked me four months
        ago, I would have said Popular Sovereignty on virtually all social
        issues. I don’t give a damn what Massachussetts or Vermont does on
        abortion or gay marriage as long as a Federal judge somewhere doesn’t
        say that because Massachussets did it, Mississippi has to, too. The
        only Republican I have heard say that is Fred Thompson, and you know
        what happened to him. Unfortunately, the activities of gay activists
        after the California vote–intimidation, forcing people to lose their
        jobs, seeking to have the tax exempt status to churches revoked—has
        convinced me that they simply do not deserve to part of the political
        process, because they cannot lose civilly. And because they—and most
        of the media—now take the position that any opposition to this or
        global warming is bigotry or Holocaust denial and deserves to be
        silenced. That is not moderation, t least to me. Is there a middle
        ground on virtually all of these issues? Yes, of course. But it is
        quite unreasonable to expect one side to adopt it if the other will not.

        • elrod

          Public opinion on gay marriage is shifting rapidly – even month to month. Few other moral issues are shifting around so freely as gay marriage.

          Gays in the military is supported by over 75% of the country right now. In 1993 it wasn’t. So Clinton was ahead of his time on that – and got whacked for it. Remember 1994?

          • senor

            I disagree. A true centrist position on abortion would be one where
            the courts stay out of it and either let the states decide what their
            policy is, or let congress. Good luck with that. In virtually every
            one of these social issues, the last thing any elected official wants
            to do is take responsibility for taking a position. They want the
            courts to take the onus off of them, which automatically destroys the
            chance of any compromise. Hence the partial birth bill that was
            finally signed by Bush. did you know that our sitting VP voted for
            it, then turned around and criticized the Supreme Court when they
            found it constitutional? What does that tell you? The real bottom
            line is that I don’t care what any state or even the Fed. govt does on
            any of these issues as long as they recognize them as political
            issues, not constitutional ones. The culture wars, to the extent that
            they exist, are almost wholly the creation of the court system.
            Everyone of these state actions against gay marriage is in reality a
            preemptive strike against the courts, because they cannot be trusted
            to avoid trying to settle any political dispute. The Democrats use
            the right words of moderation, but when the rubber hits the road,
            they don’t want to compromise on anything.. And the American people
            don’t want the responsibility of making decisions, not when you can
            get a court to do it for you. This is a standard started by that
            great Democratic President, James Buchanan, who in April 1861 declared
            that it was illegal for a state to secede from the union… but just
            as illegal for the union to do anything about it. The only poll that
            shows gays in the military with a 77% favorable rating was conducted
            by the Human Rights Campaign, hardly an objective measure. As for gay
            marriage, despite what Frank Rich misreports, and John Meacham, for
            that matter, support has never surpassed 35%. But hey, so what? As
            for the South as a colony, it really doesn’t matter who does the
            colonizing. We’re the Solid South again, different party this time,
            same result. And because we’re homophobes, antiwoman, bigots and
            holocaust deniers, we must be silenced. So we will be. And the
            corporate media will keep telling us how moderate the Democrats are.
            Works for me. I’m a native of Middle Tennessee who now lives in the
            Florida panhandle.

    • elrod

      Abortion was not the only underlying issue in the Democratic Party in the 1980s. In fact, abortion politics actually revived the Democratic Party in 1989 when the Supreme Court ruled in the Casey case. The anti-abortion side was loud and the pro-choice side was the “silent majority” that helped Democrats like Doug Wilder of Virginia sail to office. The problem is that a majority of Americans support legalized abortion, albeit with some restrictions. A true centrist position would be legal abortion with requirement for parental notification, a waiting period, counseling regarding alternatives. By centrist I speak only of the polling, by the way.

      Regarding the South, we are becoming a colony of the world, not the rest of the country. Our economic growth is based on foreign manufacturers who seek our cheap land and labor. I’m in East TN and the prime engine of growth here is the Japanese automotive industry. And in true colonialist spirit, we ensure that the benefits of this relationship are enjoyed by a relative few.

      • senor

        You realize, of course, that our fearless leader is in no way a
        “centrist” as you define him. He believes that the right to abortion
        is so fundamental that none of your compromises listed below would
        apply. Keep a watch out for his health bill: see if it doesn’t
        require insurance companies to cover abortions. But hey, the
        Democrats are the party of moderation.

        • This is a great discussion — made more so, for me, by the addition of some voices I’m not familiar with.

          senor — I’m curious. Do you consider yourself a moderate?

          • senor

            That’s a good question. I consider myself moderate on some issues,
            i.e. keeping the social issues out of court, for example. I consider
            myself fairly liberal on some issues: I don’t believe public money
            should be spent on religious schools, for example. I believe if you
            buy a gun, you should register it, just like a car. I applaud Barack
            Obama for attempting to change things with Cuba and Latin America (I
            just wish he would go further and lift the embargo. Hell, I think he
            ought to offer Cuba statehood. Tell the Castros they can stay in
            power with no changes to the government structure. The way I figure
            it, Cuba at its worst is better than California and Massachussetts).
            and I think that if the government owns something, like Amtrak or the
            National Parks, it should keep them up. I am conservative mainly in
            tht I believe that the more power the government has, the less freedom
            the individual has, though I don’t consider myself a libertarian. I
            worry that there is nothing anymore that everybody, across the board,
            can agree is good, or wrong in our culture, that everything is somehow
            relative. I believe that it is awfully easy to try to legalize, or
            constitutionalize every political argument, which works against the
            very basis of a democratic society, which is compromise. The one
            single thing that depresses me about the current situation is that
            under Reagan and both Bushes, it has been amply demonstrated that the
            American people really do not want small government. None of the
            three of them were fiscal conservatives, so that now, whoever is
            elected in Washington, it’s merely a case of which direction the size
            of government is going to grow in. It’s no wonder the Republican
            Party has only 21% identification: there is no need for it. I know
            I’ve rambled, but did this answer your question a little bit? It has
            gotten to where I have absolutely no faith in any elected official to
            show any integrity, and no faith in the American people to care.
            Arlen Specter is nothing special; he’s just another whore.

          • Thanks, senor, for your thoughtful response. It gives a great deal of insight into where you’re coming from, more generally. I suspect there are people right here on this site with whom you’d agree sometimes, and with whom you’d also disagree. One of the hallmarks of a moderate, though (in my personal view) is someone who can reasonably discuss various issues, and process other views honestly and open-mindedly.

            One of the things you said struck me: “I
            worry that there is nothing anymore that everybody, across the board,
            can agree is good, or wrong in our culture, that everything is somehow
            relative. ”

            I don’t know that that’s ever been true, to be honest. Even the Founders disagreed, sometimes profoundly, on what our priorities should be, and how we should pursue them.

            Which brings me to Specter. It may very well be true that he is being nothing but a jaded, selfish opportunist. But it may also be that he, like you, has a variety of views which don’t fit neatly into an ideology. I don’t know that such a position (positions?) necessarily indicate a moderate, but it’s a valid starting point, I think.

          • senor

            I do agree with you absolutely. It is a mark of the decline of a
            culture in the inability to hold civil discourse. It’s everywhere
            today: on the blogs, in the papers, on the cable sites. It makes me
            want to puke. I didn’t mean to sound like I was particularly picking
            on Specter. I think every member of Congress would do what he did if
            they thought their re-election was at stake.

          • senor

            Just to follow up on our very learned and pleasant correspondence
            a new Quinnipiac poll came out today which showed a majority of
            respondents opposed to gay marriage, but in favor of civil unions.
            This was reported on MSNBC by a Washington Post reporter (whose name
            escapes me) with a straight face as proof that a majority of people
            support gay marriage. I guess no one has told gay activists that
            marriage and civil unions are the same thing.
            Someday, after we are long dead, historians will publish learned tomes
            on the early days of the Obama administration trying to explain how
            the media treated him with such extreme paternalism and nobody noticed
            or cared. The question from the New York Times reporter about what
            has enchanted him in his first 100 days was, I think, absolutely
            perfect. Obama is our minstrel-in-chief. He gets dressed to the
            nines, trotted out every day just like Mr. Bones (without the cane),
            shows his teeth, does his song and dance, and everybody is breathless
            about how smart he is and how good he makes them feel. I have never
            seen a President insulted as much by the people who claim to love him.


  • HemmD

    “So, even if the Democrats did fail spectacularly, it’s not likely that the Republicans would gain. If they did (as the Democrats did after Watergate in 1974), it wouldn’t last because the electorate rejects the conservative Republican ideology.”

    The only kind of “Watergate-type” of failure the Democrats may face is another 9/11 episode. It’s the one area of government that the GOP still has any kind of political traction. The economy may well get much worse before recovering, but the electorate sees Obama as using every available tool to lessen the negative impact, and regardless that the pundits are now touting that the Dems hold all the power, people still believe that this problem’s root is planted in the past administration.

    I believe as mikkel alluded to that a single party over-reaches, and as the economy improves, the moderates within the Democratic party will be more and more marginalized. I believe the heart of any new Republican resurgence will come from the Blue Dog Democrats that Specter is now member.

    As of yesterday, this group now holds more power than either party simply because their votes are coveted by both sides. Their votes will have to be aquired through compromise in favor of moderate principals and Dems and Repubs will have to compromise their extreme positions to lock a vote or secure a veto.

    The irony of this seems obvious. The “purest” sentiment of either party surfaces when a party is in trouble, but governance actually hinges upon those “impure” moderates on both sides that merely want to govern based upon their convictions and not some part line. Be it Joe Leiberman under the Bush Administration or Specter under Obama’s, the party ellite hate these men, but they can’t govern without them.

  • CStanley

    It would be great if we really did have those moderates who vote according to their convictions, against the more extreme ideologies of each side, Hemm. What I see far more often though is moderates who use their coveted votes as bargaining chips for sale to the highest bidder.

    • HemmD


      Sure they “sell” their votes, but at least they get some of what they want in exchange. It’s ugly, but it works for all involved. Compromise itself has become a lost art, but I think it’s a fundamental part of our style of government.

      It certainly better that the all or nothing world we’ve been living in. AsI said, moderates currently hold the real power in congress because they will work with either side to get the most for their agenda.

      Of couse, if you mean they sell their votes for bucks and personal power, they’re just people of legislators, boot them out. That’s true for politician regardless of affiliation.

  • kritt11


    The Democrats in the 80’s did not vote in lockstep as the GOP has — and I seem to remember that Reagan had to work with Tip O’ Neill to get his agenda through. If they had been as obstructionist as the GOP nothing would have passed!

  • Staggslaw

    Ignorance is bliss.

  • StockBoySF

    Also the Dems in the 80s didn’t have war criminals in their party.

  • CyKick

    Obama’s government will fail by 2012.
    His reach toward liberal extremism and the coming effects of his borrowing will have a large impact on America. The people will look elsewhere for a less risky leader.

    • elrod

      “Obama’s government will fail by 2012.
      His reach toward liberal extremism and the coming effects of his borrowing will have a large impact on America. The people will look elsewhere for a less risky leader.”

      Sounds like something a liberal said about Reagan in 1982.

  • CStanley

    Sure they “sell” their votes, but at least they get some of what they want in exchange.

    Of course- but there’s an important distinction between “getting what they want in exchange” if what they want reflects a modification of policy for the benefit of the country vs. if what they want reflects a modification of policy for their own personal, political benefit.

    If you can look at the voting record of Specter and show what principles he’s based his cross party votes on, go ahead and make the case that he has sought to get something in return for his votes which moderately conservative voters would see as a valid principle. I haven’t seen evidence of it, and by all accounts he’s strictly an opportunist

    It’s ugly, but it works for all involved.
    No, no, no. It doesn’t work for anyone but the individuals who prosper from it most of the time. What happens in these ‘compromises’ is that you start with a flawed bill and then in order to make it politically palatable to a large enough number of people, a lot of stuff gets added in which makes the bill even more flawed. No one is strictly looking for a better overall policy, they’re bargaining and bribing each other for what will best get them donations and support from special interest groups.

    Compromise itself has become a lost art, but I think it’s a fundamental part of our style of government. Well, I certainly agree with that, but in my previous statement I explain why I don’t think what generally happens is true compromise. I mean it’s a compromise of sorts, but the exchanges are based on what’s best for the politicians instead of the country.

    • mikkel

      “I haven’t seen evidence of it, and by all accounts he’s strictly an opportunist”

      There’s a reason the term Spectoring gained traction on blogs…

  • HemmD


    He already said he wouldn’t vote for the employment fair choice act. If as the unions want, this bill has a chance, it will have to be through acceptable changes based upon his beliefs.

    I’m not here to defend Specter any more than Lieberman. I’m stating the fact that they both now hold more political power than moderates usually wield when relegated to the fringe.

    This power comes and goes, and that’s why moderates are both hated by the ideologues and coveted at the same time. In our hyper-political environment, this is how moderates influence events.

    And as I said, if it’s all just for personal gain, boot ’em out

  • CStanley

    And as I said, if it’s all just for personal gain, boot ’em out

    Well, frankly I wish more moderates would express that sentiment. I realize it would be hard to be a purist as a moderate- but it seems to me that their ought to be a litmus test of whether or not the person votes according to some kind of rational thought rather than floating with the wind.

    You might not even agree with the thought processes involved but could support the basic premises that the person HAS some sort of rationale for his votes which isn’t completely self motivated. For instance, some moderates might generally vote with their party on matters involving the economy but they’re either more dovish or hawkish than the ideologues in their party. Or they may be fiscally responsible in that they believe in deficit reduction, but they aren’t the brand of fiscal conservatives who feel that tax cuts are always in order.

    But when someone has no pattern to their votes at all, it certainly suggests that there may be quid pro quo reasons that they buck their party, rather than principled reasons. I think moderates like that really give moderate politics a bad name. I think that people who form the base of each party are more likely at accept moderates who are principled (even if some of the principles don’t match up with the party line) than those who put their own interest first and foremost.

    And I know this conversation is more about generalities than about Specter himself, but since you brought up his assurance that he’s not going to vote for EFCA, I’d say don’t hold your breath on that promise. His word just isn’t good for much…so we’ll see if he sticks to that or not.

  • HemmD


    “Politics is the art of the possible,” and maybe that’s why there is also the corollary “You don’t want to watch sausage or laws made.”

    We talk about checks and balances, but one purpose of that balancing is it requires branches to work together through compromise to get anything done. You tend toward the litmus test idea because, like me, we hold our ideals above all else. Politics doesn’t function without the give and take we find if not offensive, at least alien. The truth is that absolutism only works in dictatorships, and even then, exceptions do and must occur. Even communist china had to bend to allow some of capitalism to enter their world if only to survive economically.

    I’m simply stating that’s how thing get done.

  • CStanley

    I’m not naive enough to think otherwise, Hemm- I just vastly prefer that the compromises and coalition bridging involves some common sense approach toward a better law, not a bunch of self serving shysters who make deals for their personal benefit.

    Watching sausage being made isn’t pretty but the results are usually palatable and that’s why we look the other way. But if the sausage makers are putting garbage and toxic waste into the casings, it’s something we ought to force ourselves to look at and call a stop to it.

    • HemmD


      Sorry for the delay, my Windows Vista did what it does best…

      “I’m not naive enough to think otherwise, Hemm- I just vastly prefer that the compromises and coalition bridging involves some common sense approach toward a better law, not a bunch of self serving shysters who make deals for their personal benefit.”

      I did not mean that you suffered from naivete. You and I merely have the luxury of holding these guys to our personal “litmus tests.” As I’ve said before, I have serious problems with Obama’s decision to keep some of the NSA wiretap laws. I’m sure you voted for Bush but disliked some things he did. We are forced to weigh the “whole package” of a candidate, and if he strays too far from our ideals, we boot ’em.

      I’m not sure these guys can maintain that same luxury and get anything done. The only way they can govern and make no allowance for other views is if they are dictators. And even then, the real world makes even them relent ideology for practically. Red China had to allow some capitalism if it wished to trade in world markets.

      We tout the checks and balances to limit government, but what those checks also do is demand that politicians compromise in order to govern at all. If you and I were politicians, we would do nothing but debate and the country would go to heck in a hand basket. Our politicians must compromise to attain any of their goals.

      Our jobs are simple, we watch “the total package closely,” and if the guy crosses our personal “litmus test,” we boot em out and vote in the next guy; we then watch that guy like a hawk, all the while knowing that no one will follow our tenets exactly. If the guy lives outside our district, we don’t even get that satisfaction of the boot. It’s all very frustrating except that it has worked for 220 years.

  • “…when will the moderates who don’t care for the Democratic base but who find the GOP repulsive form a viable third party movement to stand as the opposition?”

    This is the most interesting and important question, so naturally it is ignored by two-party political hacks.

    The moderate center of the US political spectrum is growing, and out-growing the two-party system. The center is increasingly Libertarian (social liberals, fiscal conservatives). Neither Dems nor the GOP can “win” the center majority as each party makes the mistake of gravitating towards their right/left extremes. The majority, moderate, Libertarian center is already building towards a viable third party, one that will likely marginalize the GOP even further, as there is little appeal for a GOP that can’t exercise power and has effectively become the evangelical/bible party. That dog don’t hunt in the USA at a national level. On the other hand, Dems are losing many in their base – those that realize the implications of debasing the $USDollar, propping-up a corrupt/bankrupt financial system, and enriching party donors regardless of criminal collusion. The US cannot spend it’s way out of these massive, systemic failures yet the Democratic machine is trying to do exactly that… and they are quickly losing the independents and many in their base because of it.

    Forget the GOP and the Left. America’s real political power is building in the middle… it simply doesn’t have a name, yet.

  • appleblossom

    mpower, if the centre is more libertarian as you say it is, how come the actual Libertarian Party is so small?

  • I think Larison reads the situation correctly: There is no substantial constituency for fiscal conservationism. Low taxes maybe, but most people want the government to do more.

  • ottovbvs

    The presumption the Democrats are going to over reach is highly speculative. Sure they are going to have some slip ups but nothing surely on the scale of starting two pre-emptive wars the consequences of which have been awful, or driving the economy onto the rocks. In fact the dominant characteristics of the democrats at present are pragmatism, caution and a willingness learn from mistakes they made in earlier times. So maybe they will screw up but I wouldn’t hold your breath. The other expectation that is an article of faith amongst conservatives is that Obama’s economic initiatives are all going to end in failure. I find this notion highly unlikely. His economic team of Summers, Geithner, Orzag, Romer et al with ex officio member Bernanke is extraordinarily able. If they can’t get us out of this recession no one can. Certainly spending freezes and more tax cuts for the wealthiest wouldn’t. To me there is no doubt that by next spring the economy will be on the mend and by 2012 will be humming along very strongly. And Obama and the democrats will get the credit with appropriate electoral benefits. Conversely, they will use this to destroy the gop as the party of no and economic and managerial incompetence. The base are in total denial about this of course but they are in total denial about a lot of things. Polarisation and southern strategies let the Morlocks out of the basement and now they’ve taken over the house. As of now I don’t see how the Republican party evicts them.

  • CStanley

    Hemm, I understand the problem of endless debate too (you and I would filibuster the heck out of each other!)

    But I still think you’re missing my point (or maybe you get it but you’re talking around the edges of it.) It’s that there are two distinct ways to compromise, and which method prevails depends on whether the moderates in Congress are really motivated by what’s best for the country (plus, if they’re smart enough to understand the policies well and figure out ways to blend the two ideological approaches) or if they are completely self serving.

    And I realize you might be saying that even so, moderate voters have to accept some of the horse trading just like you and I have to accept some things from politicians on our side of the divide.

    But I rarely see moderates even noting the difference, and when I see a guy like Specter held up as an example of a moderate, I get so irritated because he’s the kind of politician that NO one should really support (at least from what I see- I honestly don’t know the ins and outs of his whole record, and obviously some PA voters think he’s done a good job for them although I’d say even that might be only a perception on their part because of the incumbent advantage and his high fundraising numbers which enable him to drown out competitors- or has allowed that until now.)

    The kind of principled bipartisan approach that I’m talking about was evident in the recent attempt at immigration reform. There was a real attempt to figure out what the objections were on all sides, to ignore those on the extremes who would never be persuaded to compromise, and to create a policy that made sense and was achievable. Of course, it failed- and my point is that if more moderate voters would vocally support those kinds of efforts, then the extremists would lose their hold on things. As it is now, the people on the extreme right on the issue of immigration feel that their position has been vindicated and so we’ve lost the chance to do meaningful reform.

    Similarly on abortion- although I’m about as conservative as you can get on that issue, I understand that my way probably could never prevail politically and so I would support people who really do want to create policy to make abortion rare (rather than just paying lip service to that stance.)

    On healthcare, well, the Dems have the right to claim a mandate on that I think, so I believe it’s inevitable that we’ll get some sort of nationalized system. But a bipartisan approach that recognized that mandate would also address conservative concerns more seriously about how the care will be rationed (addressing, for instance, the doctor shortage which is going to become critical once we expand the demand for services.) There definitely are things that could help moderate conservatives buy into the ideas- but the Democrats are no more likely to offer those things than the GOP is to accept the buy in. It definitely takes two to tango, but for quite some time now I haven’t seen either party even stepping up to the dance floor.

  • HemmD

    I agree about Specter completely. We could easily have used Leiberman in Specter’s stead. (I really hate that guy)

    And you’re right, real bi-partisanship has been blown away by ideologues from both sides. Health care, I’ve heard, is one of the reasons Specter jumped. I didn’t follow that story line, but if so, we will get some kind of compromise. It may just be the kind you alluded to.

    Here’s how things change. The GOP needs to drop its rhetoric about medical socialism and provide real ideas for health care. They need to make their real concerns cogent and public. As example, the Repubs can’t just say its too expensive, they need to say how to make it cheaper and more efficient. Something is going to pass, it’s up to the Repubs to contribute to that change.

    The Dems, for their part, need to demonstrate that even with a majority, they are willing to talk about those concerns. Obama has said he is open to any good ideas. Call him on it. Find out if he’s just another politician or if he’s serious, but do that with a plan, an idea, or a realistic fear.

    If the GOP fails to admit that something has to be done, they’ll never be taken seriously. Real Compromise starts when bogus rhetoric stops. If your side drops the pretense and the Dems do not, I’ll be right beside you calling BS. So will many more from the center.

  • CStanley

    Agreed, Hemm.

  • CStanley

    Senor- you may not realize that I’m a conservative, so I agree with your assessment of Obama’s position on abortion. I was not arguing that Obama is a centrist anyway- it seems more and more apparent to me that his ideology is left wing but he uses moderate rhetoric and makes people on the opposing side feel that they are being given a fair hearing. I haven’t seen much evidence that anything changes once he hears people out though, and when people do this to me in my personal life I find it extremely grating. I’d prefer that people just let their firm position be known rather than pay lip service to listening to mine.

  • CStanley

    Re your other comment, senor- judicial vs. legislative is a separate axis to consider- I’m giving my assessment of the best legislative centrist approach to abortion. That doesn’t mean that I agree with allowing the courts to bypass the legislatures- but there doesn’t seem to be that much we can do about that at this point.

  • StevefromNY

    Obama is not a centrist?

    Is he Liberal?

    He is pro death penalty, pro war on drugs, pro military (he will never, imo, cut the military by 25-50% that it should be cut–at present: 14x the spending of #2, China).

    He is no Liberal.

    For some, it seems, one’s position on the abortion issue is the sole component of one’s placement on the political spectrum.

  • CStanley

    StevefromNY- No, I didn’t mean to imply that Obama’s stance on abortion solely defines him. I used that example because I see him as being pretty completly on the left side of that issue. You’re right to name some counterexamples (I disagree on the degree of centrism there, perhaps, but I certainly realize that many, many, people on the left find him lacking in his resolve to cut back our military commitments and end the war on drugs.)

    But overall I do define him as a liberal, mainly on economic issues and then the one social issue that I find important, abortion. Even on economics I realize some will argue my point- he’s certainly willing to reward and collude with the bankers and Wall Street investors, while complaining that he doesn’t like doing it. But he is definitely no DLC Bill Clinton type on the economic issues, and I don’t believe that’s strictly because of the current economic crisis.

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