(Hilton Head, S.C.) Long ago in Boston a standard joke heard in Beacon Hill public houses was that politicians told their wives that they simply had to go to bars to escape reporters, while conversely reporters told their editors that they simply had to go to bars to find politicians.
Accordingly I felt myself to be participating in a Grand Tradition when I joined a politically connected friend in a local watering hole after a night of watching GOP Primary returns at a gathering of Beaufort County Republicans.
The GOP contest in question had drawn considerable national attention because it marked the unlikely political resurrection of former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford who not so long ago had resigned in disgrace when after telling his staff he was going for a week long hike down the Appalachian Trail instead turned up in Argentina in “dalliance” with a Buenos Aires woman who was not his wife.
Defying playwright Noel Coward’s aphorism that “there are no Second Acts in American Life”, Sanford had finished first in a sixteen candidate primary with 37% of the vote and on this night had handily won the two man run-off with 57% of the vote.
The question now is whether this slightly tarnished Sanford will win the May 7th special election against a Democratic businesswoman from Charleston who is also the sister of left-wing comedian Stephen Colbert.
As this may be the only Congressional election between now and the sure to be ferocious mid-term elections of 2014 this Palmetto State match-up will be seen as a preview of which way the political winds will be blowing next year.
In the course of the evening while vainly hoping to encounter Bob Woodward, or maybe “Campaign Carl” Cameron, I nonetheless gained some fair insight into how local Republicans felt about the current condition of their “Grand Old Party”.
What was most striking to this observer was the startling contrast between the viewpoints of these local republicans and what we hear from “National” GOP Leadership.
The national view seems embodied in the much heralded report recently released by GOP National Chairman Reince Priebus. Based on extensive opinion sampling the report concluded that the GOP needed to dramatically change itself if it was to expand its appeal and prosper in the future.
The national media loved it and hailed the report as a “long overdue breakthrough in an outdated GOP world view” (N.Y. Times). When GOP Senator Rand Paul in a CPAC speech called his party’s outlook “stale and moldy” the media were quick to praise the Kentuckian for his endorsement of their astute reporting.
Further evidence of this “promising GOP awakening” (Chris Matthews, MSNBC) was the widely lauded initiatives of “three respected and pragmatic Republican Senators“ (Washington Post): Rob Portman’s conversion on Gay Marriage, Tom Coburn’s efforts on Gun Control, and Marco Rubio’s work with the “Gang of Eight” on Immigration Reform.
Now anytime the New York Times, MSNBC, and the Washington Post are loudly applauding any GOP initiative, Republicans should recall Homer’s immortal words: “Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts”.
Just such skepticism well describes the unfavorable response to the RNC report of many Republicans across the country including several of those I spoke to in South Carolina.
In order to get a handle on all this, let’s take a look at the three issues alluded to above, and examine them in ascending order of their importance to the GOP and the country.
1. Gay Marriage Unlike gun owners or immigrants Gays are not a large, interest group (about 4% of the population). However the issue of Gay Marriage has a powerful grip on the Liberal Imagination. Support for Gay Marriage in the wake of the pioneering “Evolution” by Obama and the Clintons has become almost mandatory for Democrats (unless up for re-election in a “Red State” next year).
Despite the fact that Gay Marriage was defeated in thirty consecutive state elections (most recently by 61% last year in North Carolina) the media dismisses these polls as “ancient history” and talks only about the two “Blue States” where the issue narrowly prevailed last November. Generally liberals to get what they want here prefer “omniscient” judges to “ignorant” voters.
The media now tell us that new polls show a “dramatic sea change” in public attitudes particularly among the young. A Time magazine cover story declares “Gay Marriage Battle Already Won”.
Given their diminished religious affiliation and the moral vacuum that has overtaken public education the broader support among youth is not surprising. With few exceptions the issue doesn’t affect their lives one way or the other. Hence a benign indifference masquerading as “tolerance” is a comfortable shoe. In his classic The Closing of the American Mind Alan Bloom long ago explained the emergence of Tolerance as the Last Moral Absolute.
All of our experience with longitudinal polling on “Social Issues” (e.g. abortion, capital punishment, sex, and marriage) tells us that despite fluctuations real attitudinal change only occurs very gradually.
Predictions: As long as all organized religion remains opposed to Gay Marriage there will be no stampede in that direction. The law in some places now allows three marital options (man-woman, man-man, and woman -woman) but most Americans will continue to see marriage as it has been viewed for millennia: one man, one woman- only.
The Supreme Court will avoid any sweeping ruling on this matter and artfully bounce the ball back in the direction of the states. Given the forty years of bitter controversy that followed the sweeping abortion decision in Roe vs Wade, this is a smart move.
A few Blue States may in future endorse Gay Marriage. More will stick with the politically safer “civil union” option, but most will remain exactly where they are today until voters send clear new instructions.
The Democrats are now stuck with the burden at being the “Pro-Gay Marriage” Party. Politically this will benefit them much less than they think.
With respect to Messrs. Cheney, Portman, and Kirk they will remain outliers in the GOP. Republicans have nothing to gain by any retreat from principle regarding Traditional Marriage and much to lose should they “evolve”.
GOP opposition to Gay marriage will remain sensitive and civilized but unyielding.
2. Gun Control Like Gay marriage gun control has emerged over time as a cultural, perhaps even psychological imperative for liberals. Accordingly their actions are entirely predictable whenever a mass killing occurs.
Despite the fact that almost every killer has been a young male who had previously been identified as potentially dangerous or even homicidal Democrats have absolutely no interest in challenging the mental health establishment by pushing laws to get such dangerously disturbed individuals off the streets.
Despite clear evidence that shockingly violent video games and films have dangerously desensitizing effect on young males Democrats have absolutely no interest in challenging the Hollywood elites by pushing industry codes to at least limit the obscene levels of blood and gore.
Despite the horrendously high black on black murder rate involving readily available handguns in cities that ban them Democrats- and their media allies- are uncomfortable even mentioning this shameful reality much less seriously addressing it.
Invariably Democratic solutions to gun violence avoid targeting the violent few who are doing the killing and instead target the law-abiding many that are not.
Despite long experience that Democratic solutions from assault weapons bans to background checks have utterly failed to keep guns out of the hands of the lawless the liberal mind remains highly supportive of creating a national bureaucracy to closely investigate Farmer Brown before allowing him to give his son a shotgun for Christmas.
The knee jerk or obsessional nature of this liberal fixation is demonstrated by the fact that every one of these periodic Gun Control Crusades has been a political loser for Democrats.
While Obama crisscrossed the country demanding Congressional action a CNN poll (released April 7) shows a majority of Americans disapproving of his handling of the gun issue. More in touch with political reality is Harry Reid who is rightly worried about requiring his Red State Democrats to cast a vote that could lead to their being replaced by Republicans next year.
While five states have passed seven laws further restricting gun ownership, ten states have passed seventeen laws loosening restrictions (Wall St Journal April 9).
Meanwhile the NRA is being flooded by contributions and new membership applications and sales of guns and ammunition are at record levels.
Prediction: Any Congressional action on guns will be so watered down as to be hardly worth the effort or political risk to Democrats.
3. Immigration Reform On this issue large numbers of Republicans have utterly lost touch with reality and any sense of History.
Their depression over last November’s election results is understandable but their wildly inaccurate interpretation of the results is not. What they have bought into is the Democratic interpretation of those results as amplified by the legendarily biased national media.
The “Myth Agreed Upon” is as follows: Since Hispanic population will continue its dramatic growth far into the future and increasingly vote Democratic Republicans cannot ever hope to win another election unless they wholeheartedly support President Obama’s most reasonable proposals for “comprehensive” immigration reform.
Let us disaggregate the elements of this Myth:
The Hispanic population is not growing dramatically and its rate of growth will be greatly diminished well into the future.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau which – unlike the U.S. Media- carefully distinguishes between “White Hispanics” and “Non-White Hispanics” the birth rate among all U.S. Hispanics is dramatically falling (just as in Mexico and most of Latin America) and beginning to resemble the rest of the U.S. population. The cause of this trend is the usual one: increasing prosperity and wider availability of birth control.
Also the Mexican government reports that falling birth rates and a growing economy have created labor shortages in several areas and that the surplus labor pool that long spurred emigration to the U.S.A. is rapidly diminishing.
Voting Trends The Hispanic vote is not increasingly Democratic. The Republican share of the Hispanic vote went up in 2000 and 2004, down in 2006 and 2008, up in 2010, and down in 2012. This shows clearly that Hispanic voters followed national trends pretty closely, and that Hispanics like everyone else will respond to different conditions and different candidates.
We hear endlessly that the GOP only got 27 % of the Hispanic vote in 2012 and this clearly spells doom for Republicans. Yet in the same election Democrats did almost as badly among white voters but somehow we hear no one suggesting this spells doom for Dems.
Rather than fixating on the 27% figure at the national level Republicans should look to the state and local level where they have been dominant in the last two election cycles. There a large number of Republicans did much better than 27 % among Hispanics- and without promising Amnesty. How did they do it? Worth a look?
The truth is that the GOP has nothing to gain by abandoning their principles regarding Immigration. They can never outbid the Democrats on this issue. The disastrous 1986 “compromise” should have taught that lesson.
If the Republicans endorsed Amnesty tomorrow it would do little to alter Hispanic voting trends.
Historically American immigrant groups have arrived in the cities, in poverty, often handicapped by language, and correctly perceived the Democratic Party as most reflective of their interests. Over time they prosper, their interests change, and in large numbers they migrate to a Republican Party more in tune with their lives.
Evidence is clear that this process is well under way with Hispanic Americans. Panicky Republicans who think the last train is leaving the station and that Hispanics can be “won” by a welcoming speech and support for a misbegotten law insult the very people they seek to woo.
The GOP should pay more attention to American History and less to a deeply flawed reading of the last election.
William Moloney, Centennial Institute Fellow and former Colorado Education Commissioner, has written for the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Human Events.
('76 Contributor) Considered a cancer-surviving “bad*** on a bike,” it turns out Lance Armstrong is just a bad guy — and a fraud. Armstrong's admission that he doped his way to seven Tour de France titles even prompted CBS News CEO Jeffrey Fager to Think Again about his network's role in the “Miracle Man's” narrative. “We helped create the myth,” he acknowledged, because “we wanted to believe this absolutely inspirational story. But we were duped.”
Unearned moral superiority and blazing self-righteousness hastened Armstrong's rise as he slandered and sued whistle-blowers into submission. “I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative,” the master manipulator told Oprah Winfrey, “and if I didn't like what someone said, I turned on them.”
Consider how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struggled to control her narrative during last week's congressional hearings on the Benghazi terrorist attacks, which claimed four American lives, including the first U.S. ambassador murdered since 1979. To deflect responsibility and shape public opinion, Clinton hollered self-righteously, “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”
But if the deaths were caused by a premeditated attack launched on the anniversary of 9/11 by anti-American Islamic terrorists — not a protest turned violent over a YouTube video, as originally asserted by U.S. officials — shouldn't that inform how we prevent future American deaths from terrorist attacks? Isn't it misleading to suggest anything other than the facts?
President Obama worked hard to promote the narrative that he's determined to resolve America's mounting fiscal threats. In February 2009, just days after signing his $833 billion economic-stimulus bill, he convened a fiscal-responsibility summit at which he pledged “to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term.” He acknowledged, “It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we've long neglected.”
In 2010, to demonstrate that his commitment to “deal with these broad structural deficits” wasn't “just an empty promise,” Obama appointed the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. It responded to his appeal for “tough choices” by recommending tax and entitlement reforms similar to those enacted by Canada before its remarkable economic and fiscal turnaround.
But instead of pursuing reforms, Obama campaigned for Clinton-era tax rates on the wealthiest Americans — though not Clinton-era spending levels, which averaged 19.8 percent of U.S. gross domestic product compared with Obama's 24.4 percent average — securing in the fiscal-cliff deal a tax-rate increase from 35 percent to 39.6 percent on incomes more than $400,000.
Economic realities are overtaking Obama's “fiscally responsible” narrative: The economy surprisingly contracted last quarter, U.S. debt ($16.4 trillion and growing nearly $4 billion every day) exceeds the size of our economy, Medicare and Social Security actuaries say the programs are underfunded by $60 trillion, and the Congressional Budget Office projected a fifth consecutive trillion-dollar deficit this year.
Absent rapid economic growth to bring debt-to-GDP levels down to manageable norms, Americans aren't confident in a future that holds only unacceptable alternatives — massive middle-class tax increases and/or rapid inflation. Yet when Republicans urge enactment of reforms Obama once promised and his fiscal commission recommended, he calls them heartless and “out of the mainstream” and questions their morality by suggesting that they “have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat.” Recently he blamed them for the U.S. economic contraction.
As Obama discards his “fiscal prudence” narrative in favor of a “benign government” narrative, consider that our bloated government sector is not only crushing the private economy — it's handicapping Americans' opportunity to earn the success from which achievement and happiness are derived. Obama might favor “collective action,” but it's the freedom to determine one's life “profit,” however defined, that our founders meant by “the pursuit of happiness” — America's moral promise.
Americans are aspirational and self-reliant, so it's heart-wrenching to note that after spending $15 trillion in the “War on Poverty,” America's poverty rate hasn't budged, the number of Americans dependent on government checks is at a record high, and the percentage of Americans in the work force is at a record low. Rather than denigrate policymakers who want to reverse these trends by reverting to our founders' limited-government design, Obama should summon the magnanimity to collaborate. It's how our best presidents have served the national interest — by promoting unifying narratives, not divisive ones.
At the Civil War's end, President Lincoln (whose pro-slavery opponents indeed were morally inferior) proclaimed, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.” Think Again — history rewards “unifiers” like Lincoln, not self-righteous bullies like Lance Armstrong.
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. Her column runs every other Thursday. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. Melanie welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday night, Washington, D.C. – American Enterprise Institute & Heritage Foundation scholars, media members, writers, donors, Congressmen gather along with 20 CCU Washington Week students & faculty. The occasion; Arthur Brooks, president of AEI, is speaking about his new book, “The Road to Freedom”. The lecture focused on the battle between conservatives & liberals in the public square. Brooks explained that as president of AEI it is clear that the truth and statistical backing rests within the conservative ideas and policies. Despite this, the left is winning the battle. Brooks believes this quandary is caused by the failure of conservatives to make a strong moral argument for our beliefs and our ignorance of the neuropsychological proof that moral arguments affect human brains in a way far more powerful than solely logical arguments.
To illustrate the failure of strictly logical arguments versus a moral case Brooks tells a joke – ‘Three friends go out golfing; a psychologist, a priest and a free market economist. They find themselves playing behind two incredibly slow golfers. These golfers are painfully slow and are ruining the friends’ day at the golf course. After several holes of impatiently waiting behind these two men who are shooting upwards of 12 strokes per hole, the three ask the caddy to allow them to play through. The caddy replies “you guys are free to play through, but I want you all to be aware of how rude you’ve been… Remember the fire at the schoolhouse last year, and the two firemen who lost their sight while rescuing 13 children from the blaze? Well that’s them and this weekly golf game is their most coveted source of fun since losing their vision, and you three have been heckling them this entire time.” The psychologist replies, “Wow, here I’ve devoted my life to trying to help people and I just learned a valuable lesson today.” The priest says “Oh my, I have a contrite heart and I have been humbled by these two great men.” The free-market economist pauses for a moment, and then says, “It would be more efficient if they were to play at night!”’(Paraphrase Quote)
Clearly the economist in this joke has made a factual and relevant argument, but he has completely failed to address the moral reality of this situation and thus ignored an integral element of human nature. This anecdote masterfully illustrates the climate of political discourse between the right & left today. Brooks went on to show that the right is not devoid of moral substance. Rather he showed that every claim has moral implications, and that we must reach towards those implications in our argumentation in order to reach others with the truth where it so often is overlooked.
My time in D.C. with the CCU and Centennial Institute Washington Week clan began with not the greatest of surprises – after driving 1,670 miles from Denver my car’s fuel pump failed just twenty miles short of our destination. Sparing you further details of the dilemma; I had a very interesting discussion with the driver of the tow truck, Kevin. Kevin made it very clear that he backed Obama for re-election. After unsuccessfully prying into his reasoning for such a stance, I began to lose hope for the discussion. Then Kevin introduced the idea of term limits for Congress. Kevin was highly in favor of a possible limit of service on the Hill for both chambers. This proposition is not foreign at CCU, Centennial Institute, or conservative dialogue in general, and provided a needed common ground between Kevin and myself on our short ride to the garage. This conversation would not be the last time that term limits would be raised during this trip.
On Friday, former Colorado Congressman and Senator, Hank Brown led CCU students on a tour of the Capitol. Senator Brown has extensive knowledge of the Capitol’s art, history, and symbolism. As a former Senator, Hank Brown provided CCU students a nearly unlimited access tour of both chambers. One very special place we found ourselves in was the House Appropriations Committee room. In this room, a portion of the fresco is composed of a painting of the Roman Senator and leader Cincinnatus being called from his plough to defend Rome. Senator Brown told us the significance of this lies not in the fact the Cincinnatus heard the call of duty and went to save Rome, but that he returned to his farm and denied the dictatorship of Rome after completing his service. This historical event was repeated in the life and service of George Washington. Both men loved their country, they left their home to serve and defend but returned when their service was no longer required, turning down dictatorial power.
These two men, Washington more commonly, are cited by those who argue for a Congressional term limit. We have seen a handful of men go to congress and serve valiantly at their posts as Senators of Congressman then return to their homes and occupations, imploring others to do the same. But are these self-imposing term limiters to be compared to Cincinnatus and Washington? To know this we must know the enemy in all three cases. In Cincinnatus’s time the enemy was the attacking Aequi forces. During Washington the threat was the British Empire. But today the greatest fight in front of a conservative congressman or woman is the fight to stop & reverse government growth and defend constitutional government. And while universally imposed term limits would theoretically aid that pursuit, Conservatives are not raising the memory of Cincinnatus or Washington when they leave the government in the hands of the entrenched spenders while patting themselves on the back for showing restraint. I applaud the honorable service of these Senators and Representatives, though I feel this is one area where leading by example hurts our cause. These strong conservative members should fight to the end of the battle; until term limits are instated, then leave their posts with dignity.
I’m plagued with a wandering mind. I find most speakers unsensational and my mind goes sideways about the people I am dutifully supposed to listen to. I wonder what they had for breakfast, what they wanted to be when they were a kid and what books sit on their nightstand these days. So who can hold my interest? Today, as when I was in college, it tends to be the real-world adventurers, the story tellers, those that had the guts to start businesses, invent stuff or start a crusade. That's how it was, fortunately, last Thursday and Friday at the 35th Annual Heritage Foundation Resource Bank held at the stunning Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs. The conference theme was Strategies to Lead, and theclosing speakers on Friday noon wrapped it up powerfully with a pair of talks headlined "The Battle for America."The first speaker, Hannah Giles, is the young woman who took down ACORN, the outfit that the Washington Times called an “embezzlement-prone, voter-registration-fraud-plagued community organizing group.” Giles created a plan to expose the billion dollar organization by employing some good old-fashioned hidden camera journalism and exposed the fraud squad. The Los Angeles Times just called her "a rock star of conservative activism."Ms. Giles single-handedly brought down ACORN by exposing ACORN’s willingness to advise a prostitute and a pimp on tax evasion and child sex trafficking. She is best known for her portrayal as a prostitute in her series of hidden camera exposés and was greeted with a very warm welcome.Having only seen her work through the ACORN videos, I was pleasantly surprised by what a thoughtful, well-spoken and sincere young woman Giles is. She remarked on how before her adventures in investigative journalism, she spent most days honing her surfing skills and training in jujitsu. Giles clearly conveyed an astute point of how Obama spent $700 million dollars winning the 2008 election, while McCain spent $300 million losing the 2008 election. She and her colleague spent a little over $1500 bringing down the criminal organization known as ACORN, the largest, most shifty, and insidious radical organization to ever exist in America, which ultimately imploded under the pressure Giles shined on their activities.
After getting married, Giles, launched the American Phoenix Foundation a non-profit organization based in Austin Texas to “recruit and train select young leaders to transcend the traditional media by becoming independent truth-seeking journalists who relentlessly pursue truth with courage and creativity” in an effort to “protect the American Republic through ethical, innovative, and technologically driven journalism.” It was refreshing to find this young woman drop seeds of wisdom and inspiration for everyone in attendance. “We must be in the business of changing hearts and minds and disrupt the false narratives the left has constructed,” said Giles. “We need your help. Help my generation enjoy the same liberty you all have enjoyed during your lifetimes and use your time, talents and treasures to disrupt the false narratives pushed by the left.”The final speaker at this April 27 luncheon, clearly an effort by the Heritage Foundation to save the best for last, was Mark Stevens, an entrepreneur, CEO of MSCO marketing and business advisory firm and author of Your Marketing Sucks. Stevens was recently the target of harassment when the left waged a jihad against anyone associated with radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. His inspiring presentation reflected what he had learned after thousands of domestic terrorists attacked him and his business, his employees and family and that it’s about fighting fire with fire by boycotting the boycotters.Mr. Stevens started his remarks by speaking of his frustration with the warm and fuzzy linguistic obfuscations we find ourselves engaged in during these times. “We are not having a ‘national conversation’ as they like to call it, “It’s a war, and if we treat it as if it is anything less than that we will not win. We’re playing with water guns while they’re playing with scuds.” he exclaimed to loud applause from the captivated audience.Stevens, one of the advertisers who was boycotted due to his association with the Rush Limbaugh show, spoke of the contemptible behavior of those protesters of Limbaugh’s show for effectively committing acts of “internal American terrorism” against his employees and company.Despite never uttering a single word about Sandra Fluke or Limbaugh’s disparaging comments about her, Stevens says he and his employees were targeted with all kinds of threats, harassment and abuse via phone and email. He spoke of how people would call up his offices and call his 30 year old executive assistant a slut and women hater. People sent emails telling him they were ‘the police of the internet’ and ‘they knew where he lived,’ and ‘say goodbye to your family.” I doubt I was the only one in the audience who had chills running down their spine at the retelling of these stories.“They called women in my company and called them some of the most despicable, most horrible terms, ever to be uttered.” said Stevens He received tens of thousands of emails, most of them positive, but a small group, said things like ‘I’ll tell ten people, and they’ll tell ten people,’ The email subject lines would say ‘Mark you're in danger,’ or ‘your house is going to be shown up by buses,’ ‘your businesses are going to be destroyed, your people are in trouble.’ “This is terrorism, why don't we start calling it what it is?” said Stevens. “You don't have to commit an act of bloodshed for there to be terrorism, you have to invoke a sense of fear.”
“When we ask our troops to go into battle they know they may lose their lives, but they do it anyway, because they are fighting for what they believe to be the right thing to do.” He said. Stevens decided he was not going to cave. “If you cave, They win.” he said. Stevens made a decision that his country is more important than his business, and that if his business crumbled under the pressure, he’d just build another one. This profound statement and his courage against so much strain slayed me.He also had a few comments about President Obama and the current trend of debating people who wish to impose their will on others “So many people say, ‘he’s a nice guy. Anyone who wants to destroy America is not a nice guy. We have to stop believing we can have debates with these people. We can’t win a culture in an election and we have to fight fire with fire to protect our culture and stop debating with the hissyfitters of the world.”Both Hannah Giles and Mark Stevens made me think about what it means to be a leader. Mark Stevens is an incredibly engaging speaker. He deserves to be a speaker at the Presidential nominating convention as he’s a small business owner that has done what so many others in America have done, he worked hard and now enjoys the American dream. He's also not a politician. I'd like nothing better than to see the GOP put forward a fresh face like Mark Stevens. I am on my way to consuming every little bit of delicious goodness, mindful stories and thoughtful wisdom and wit he imparts in his blog, Unconventional Thinking.Both speakers were riveting. Now and then life throws you a bone and you get to experience a great, life-changing, profound experience. That rare, exalted, sought-after experience that emerges when you meet someone with great stories, when listening to someone who is truly passionate about something and in this case, it's maintaining the greatest country in the world. Both Hannah Giles and Mark Stevens are walking the walk and attempting to inspire others to do the same.
(Denver Post, Apr. 29) If I undertook to write about partisan politics for dummies, I’d immediately have your attention. Many people think that’s all partisan politics is for. It’s everyone’s favorite punching bag.But I’ll argue that partisan politics is forever with us and a good thing, so we may disagree. At least if we avoid capital letters, there’s no trademark rub with the popular “For Dummies” book series. Anyone cover a cut with a generic bandaid or xerox on an off-brand copier, after all. So I come to praise partisan politics, not to bury them. If that sounds crazy or wrong, it doesn’t make you a dummy in the sense of low IQ. But it may do so in the sense of that book series – someone who just never got up to speed on a subject. Politically, I dare you to do it now. Really you can’t afford not to.Several straws in the April wind bring this up. Harris Kenny of the libertarian Reason Foundation tells The Denver Post that for him and other young voters, “the future is nonpartisan.” Jason Salzman of the progressive Bigmedia.org complains in the Huffington Post that partisan Republicans (me included) “overwhelm” Democrats as voices in the Denver media.Petitioners set out to make the Colorado secretary of state’s office nonpartisan after Democratic chairman Rick Palacio brands the GOP incumbent, Scott Gessler, as shockingly partisan. Some Republicans brand their state chairman, Ryan Call, as a liberal after he appeals for cooler rhetoric and fewer charges of “RINO” (Republican in name only) or “establishment.”Meanwhile the new super-PACs overshadow the old parties as Romney takes on Obama. The waters are further roiled by such well-funded upstarts as the No Labels effort, targeting Congress, and the Americans Elect movement, promising a bipartisan presidential ticket with one maverick from each party.
Never mind that this led to a train wreck with Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr after the deadlocked election of 1800, necessitating a constitutional amendment. Our transpartisan dreamers missed that in school, which is typical of these earnest folks. Sam Cooke’s “Don’t know much about history” could be their national anthem. History teaches ten reasons why partisan politics is fortunately here to stay: (1) Power corrupts; human beings tend to lie, cheat, steal, and overreach. (2) Parties check each other’s stewardship of power and fulfillment of promises. (3) Human beings naturally disagree; interests inevitably clash; unanimity is rare. (4) Parties give voters a choice between contrasting visions for governance. (5) Governing is difficult; wrong turns are everywhere; mistakes can be disastrous. (6) Thus while the ruling party steers and accelerates, the opposition party is there to monitor and brake.(7) Americans who see the rewards and benefits of government tend to be Democrats; those who see the dangers and costs of government tend to be Republicans; we need both. (8) Republicans, favoring the brakes, thus tend to agree parties are good; while Democrats, favoring the gas, tend to wish away the need for parties. Hence the “partisans R not us” angle taken by Salzman and Palacio. (9) There is no real-world example of a free society with democratic institutions and constitutional self-government that doesn’t also have competing political parties, each party consisting of a contentious coalition around an establishment core. Hence the wisdom of Call’s appeal.(10) There are too many real-world examples of unfree societies with only one political party, or with personality cults and thought control instead of parties, resulting in brutal tyranny. Hence the impossibility of Kenny’s nonpartisan future. It’s a fantasy, and ominous at that. Aristotle said man is a political animal. Moses and Jesus warned he’s also an imperfect one; often a dummy, in fact. I know I sure am. Parties can help save us from ourselves.
(Denver Post, Nov. 27) “Thanksgiving and Christmas 2011, now those were tough times. The House and Senate couldn’t agree on raising taxes. Denver and Aurora couldn’t agree on the Stock Show.
“Democrats couldn’t get excited about Obama. Republicans couldn’t get excited about anyone. It was grim, I tell you. Worse than 1933, with unemployment over 20%, Hitler and Stalin menacing Europe.
“Worse than 1942, with the world in flames, the Allies beset by Germany and Japan. Worse than 1968, with assassinations, race riots, failed presidencies, antiwar marches.
“No, youngsters, none of those dark days compared with the year we lost Steve Jobs. Elway was dissing Tebow. Big Air was cancelled. Black December, we called it. Be grateful you weren’t born yet.”
Will Grandpa be narrating such melodrama by a Colorado fireside decades from now? Hardly. So why the long face? We’ve survived worse than this. Purpose and grit will get us through. Coloradans have backbone. Our best days are ahead, there’s no doubt of it.
Yet four out of five Americans in a recent poll said the country is now in decline. Maybe we are beginning to see ourselves as a people that things happen to, rather than what we’ve historically been since Pilgrim times – a people who make things happen. It’s a huge difference; and fortunately, it’s still our choice.
Local reaction to failure of the congressional “supercommittee” to reach a deficit-reduction agreement, as reported last week by the Denver Post, portrayed Colorado as an almost helpless dependent of the federal budget. The state will be a less desirable place to live in dozens of ways, one gathered, if spending growth slows down to keep America from a Greek-style fiscal collapse. Woe is us.
The obvious rejoinder is twofold, it seems to me. First, let’s have some perspective here. Spending growth HAS to slow. Barreling along on the current unsustainable path is not an option. It would make all 50 of the states a worse place to live.
Second, since the budget binge is clearly ending, deal or no deal, let’s make a virtue of necessity and get busy positioning Colorado for greater economic self-sufficiency. The time should come when we’re NOT a groveling client of the Beltway. How about both parties in the legislature and the Hickenlooper administration vying to outdo each other on reforms toward that goal, come January?
New Year’s confetti will hardly be swept up, of course, when presidential politics goes white-hot with caucuses and primaries, Colorado included. Some say that movement on policy will then halt because of election-year posturing. But considering our state’s particular leverage in the 2012 race, why do we have to accept that?
We’ll not only be a battleground state again as we were in 2008. This time, Colorado could play the decisive role that Florida played in 2000. Strategists on both sides have spun out scenarios in which our nine electoral votes tip the balance of 269 to elect the incumbent or the challenger. (Lucky we stayed off the National Popular Vote bandwagon.)
So we will have, to put it mildly, the respectful attention of both Obama and his opponent – Romney, Gingrich, or whoever – all the way to November. As individual voters and especially through our organized groups, we should be thinking about what we want from them. I don’t mean our selfish wants, but our agenda for the civic good, for America’s renewal.
Our state is being paid yet another compliment, if you can call it that, as pundits left and right predict that the “fear and loathing” attack campaign Obama used to rescue Sen. Michael Bennet’s reelection here in 2010 will become his own national theme against the GOP in 2012. If true, too bad. Such scaremongering demeans our intelligence and our backbone. Will Coloradans stand for it? Stay tuned.
(Centennial Fellow) After suffering the only defeat of his long political career in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, election the young “Tip” O’Neill was flabbergasted to learn that his own barber had voted for his opponent. When pressed for an explanation, the barber replied simply: “He asked for my vote, Tip. You didn’t.”
Never forgetting this experience of the very personal nature of politics, O’Neill in later years as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives would give voice to a timeless maxim: “All Politics Is Local.”As Democrats and Republicans alike spin the results of greatly differing elections and claim broad trends favoring their party in 2012, thoughtful observers would do better to heed the wisdom of O’Neil’s famous maxim. It is impossible to find in this national election mosaic a coherent narrative predictive of 2012. Each election is best understood in the context of the local conditions in which it was fought.No jurisdiction offered a better example of striking cross currents in voter sentiment than Ohio which simultaneously rejected the central element of Obamacare- the individual mandate- and overturned the sweeping restrictions on collective bargaining engineered by Republican Governor John Kasich. Remarkably both results were by roughly 2 to 1 margins, meaning that fully a third of Buckeye state voters chose to give both political parties a smack in the chops.Yet another example of contradiction was Mississippi which gave Republicans control of the governor’s office, and both legislative chambers for the first time since Reconstruction, but also strongly rejected a “Pro-Life” amendment to the state constitution. Oddly the impetus for this amendment came from Colorado folks who had lost a similar effort in their own state. That Mississippi, a bastion of Pro-Life sentiment, would handily defeat this amendment, was best explained by Pro-Life Republican Governor Haley Barbour who described it as badly written and likely to have unforeseen negative consequences.An issue where a seeming contradiction might actually be good citizen judgment is voter registration. While Maine overturned a Republican sponsored ban on Election Day registration, Mississippi became the latest state to require photo-IDs for registration. Voters may well have made the shrewd judgment that how late you register is less important than being sure you’re eligible to register.Beyond its ill-starred meddling in Mississippi, Colorado gained attention by being the only place in the nation to have a statewide tax increase on the ballot. On a recent visit to Sedona an ex-college roommate/ ex-Arizona legislator asked me “Whose bright idea was that?” His puzzlement proved apt when a few days later Colorado voters walloped this initiative (Proposition 103) by a stunning 65 to 35 margin and for good measure turned down virtually every local tax raising measure as well. With brilliant insight sheepish Democratic sponsors of Prop 103 opined that the weak economy “probably influenced voters”.
Unquestionably the best example of electoral contradiction and confusion was provided by the Newark Star-Ledger. Based on the loss of just one Republican legislative seat, the paper’s banner front page headline read: “N.J. Dems Finally Give Christie a Black Eye”, while inside their lead editorial opined the opposite: “This result is meaningless. Christie has lost nothing since his budget slashing success rests on his undisturbed alliance with powerful Democratic leaders who understand the insanity of the state’s fiscal condition”.Yet in Virginia a gain of just one seat did mean a lot since it gave Republicans who already own one chamber and the Governor’s office control of the Senate and more importantly final control of the redistricting process.What this kaleidoscope of “local politics” means for 2012 no one can say for certain. The national economic crisis has given our politics a volatility that defies prediction.What we do know is that a large majority (73%) of Americans believe the country is on the “wrong track”, and they are deeply unhappy that politicians in Washington have done nothing meaningful to provide remedies. In this environment for either party to believe their spinmeisters is a recipe for political suicide come next November.William Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Human Events. He is a Fellow of the Centennial Institute.
(Denver Post, Oct. 30) In a year and a week, we’ll know who Americans want for president. Anybody who claims much certainty about it until then is howling at the moon. I have no prescience about the race, other than to implore my fellow Republicans against over-confidence in the face of Obama’s potent incumbency and billion-dollar war chest.
Unsure as I am about 2012, however, I’ve just been through an experience that encourages me for America’s prospects in this decade, the road to 2020. Strange as it sounds amid our economic woes and the dire predictions of decline, there are signs of a strong rebound like that of the 1980s soon to come.
What makes me say so? The impressions gathered on a book tour. Almost daily since August, when I brought out “Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen’s Guide to the Next American Century” from MT6 Media, they’ve had me talking about it across the country in radio interviews, TV appearances, and speeches. It’s like campaigning again, only the exchange of ideas is far richer.
And my take-away is that Middle America’s “remnant” – as the unbowed faithful were called in ancient Israel – has not yet begun to fight. The fiscal follies, the Great Recession, and the Occupy Wall Street tantrum haven’t deadened the core of character that makes us exceptional. The American spirit, though battered, remains resilient. A hundred days on the author circuit have convinced me.
Personal responsibility as the indispensable condition of freedom and the price of sustained success, a theme in my Denver Post column since 2007, is also the theme of my book. The responsibility deficit as causative to our budgetary and educational and national security deficits – and as fatal to our country, if things don’t change – is my uncheerful warning to every audience. What’s remarkable is that they get it.
The talk shows that have me on, the groups I’m speaking to, are mostly political and conservative, Republican, and in many cases Christian. If they bridled at being told the GOP is part of the responsibility deficit, an entitlement enabler, and that our urgent challenge now is more moral and cultural than partisan or political, I’d worry. But because they own up, instead of pushing back, I am heartened. Therein are the makings of a turnaround.
America has seen this movie before, remember. After the stormy 1960s gave way to the stagnant ‘70s, elite opinion clucked over the nation’s impending decline, the need for lowered expectations, the likelihood we’d seen our best days. Elections weren’t what refuted that. Rebirth of a responsibility ethic from the bottom up refuted it. Reagan’s rise was a consequence, not a cause.
This is why I’m bullish on USA 2020, regardless of the 2012 electoral outcome. Win or lose next year, Barack Obama is indisputably Jimmy Carter redux – and having to endure another term of the man, with an opposition Congress restraining his leftward lurch, won’t ruin us. Do I want that? No. Nor do I expect it. But my confidence rests outside politics, with the already-dawning return of Element R, the responsible remnant.
Politicians fade so fast. By the time we vote in 2020, whoever next wins the presidency will be done in Washington. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock will be done in my state, as will most of today's big names in your state. Fixing on the 2020 horizon, and prioritizing a responsibility agenda that puts cultural renewal ahead of governmental goals, will best harness the Tea Party energy for lasting change.
On tour, I have talked of ten steps for this decade. The first five aren’t even political: families strengthened, learning honored, charities expanded, churches energized, multiculturalism outgrown. Upon that foundation we then aim for citizenship revived, defenses rebuilt, government relimited, sovereignty reasserted, freedom of conscience upheld. Personalities come and go. Principles endure. What are yours?
(CCU Fellow) In the 1960s the discipline of political science was becoming distressed by what they perceived to be an imbalance in the political system. Their impression was that interest groups, what they often called "pressure" groups, were becoming much more influential than political parties. In their view groups and parties had offset the goals of the Madisonian system which includes the aggregation of public opinion through compromise. What pressure groups wanted to do was disaggregate the populace into groups which could then successfully lobby Congress. The point of parties was to aggregate society into broad groups in order to win elections. One analyst, Theodore J. Lowi, went so far as to claim that hyper-pluralism existed: all groups who made requests upon government were accommodated. This was a very prescient view that has only been exacerbated. However, this may be changing.
One of the voices in favor of a stronger party system was E. E. Schattschneider, in The Semisovereign People. Schattschneider's argument was that people did not pay attention to politics at the national level; there were too many more important things going on in their daily lives and workplaces. For Schattschneider this meant there was little to no conflict between the parties. What the parties were aiming at were independents, the voters in the middle as opposed to the extremes. The idea was that strong or even weak Republicans would most likely if not always demonstrate their loyalty to their party by voting Republican and would not be dissuaded, except in the most extreme cases, by the other side. The same was true of strong and weak Democrats. Interestingly, there were what can be called extreme cases, e.g. Democrats for Reagan in 1984 or Republicans for Clinton in 1996. The fact remains that the majority of American elections hinge on the rather small percentage of independent votes in the middle of the spectrum.
This strategy changed approximately in the 1990s with Bill Clinton trying to increase the turnout of strong and weak Democrats, now called the base. Being that most American politics are like the NFL, copycats just reacting to the other side and not coming up with new or original ideas, the Republicans tried to strengthen the turnout of their base. The result of this has been a polarization of the electorate, something Madison could not have foresee. The far right and left wings of the spectrum of American politics have become much more powerful and much more vocal. The problem for the politician is that he also must maintain his appeal to the middle. Thus, the current president looks like a ping-pong ball being smacked back and forth between far left and the moderate center.
Is this good or bad? For Schattschneider it might be a good thing. For Schattschneider a good deal of the problem was that there was little to no conflict between the parties. His, and others, idea was to expand the scope of the conflict by making parties more distinct from each other, i.e. responsible parties. Responsible parties are those which are accountable to the people, have a mandate from the people and can exert party discipline on its members. This is not true of modern Airresponsible@ parties. Because of separation of powers, parties and politicians are not actually accountable to the voters. One can always have one=s own view of the truth. But if one objectively tries to sort out, e.g. the current economic collapse by giving proof of specific credit or blame to the present or former president, Congress, etc., we come to a fork in the road and as Yogi Berra once said, when you come to a fork in the road take it.
Who or what is responsible for the bailouts? Obviously Bush started the TARP program. Wrong, obviously Obama he expanded bailouts way beyond our ability to pay. However, if you are a truly objective voter trying to assign credit and blame and cast a rational vote you cannot because economic issues do not occur neatly within administrations but over decades. Often times presidents in office place blame on the Congress, the opposition party, his own party, the bureaucracy, foreign affairs, ad infinitum. (The current president has a unique approach. He blames the American people themselves. Schattschneider is informative here making the argument that professors cannot flunk the people.) In fact this is true. If the essence of separation of powers is to bring about compromise then factually and objectively no president, Senate, House, congressional member, nor political party can actually take credit or get blame so that a rational voter can make a rational choice. Thus, there is no true accountability which is helpful to the voter.
One of the first things politicians do upon winning election is claim a mandate, an authoritative command or an authorization to act given to a representative. This claim of a mandate, except in extreme examples, e.g. Reagan in 1984, are fallacious. Because of the way elections are run we often times do not know what a candidate truly stands for much less what he will actually do. Radio and television ads seldom inform us of the party the candidate is a member of. Again, this is the logic of appealing to the independents in the middle. The result is that politicians do not know why the voters have sent them into office! So they generally make it up themselves. This is legitimate in the Burkean sense of representation wherein uninformed voters entrust a person of character, reputation, etc. to represent the people=s interests as he sees fit. This may intellectually solve the problem but it is a better fit in a parliamentary system than the American system.
The American system has evolved into a much more candidate centered politics in which we expect the candidate, irrespective of party, to follow our wishes. This is referred to as the delegate model of representation; politicians are there to follow the will of the people. The problem is, as outlined above, is there a will of the people? Here, the so-called crisis of rationality mitigates against the creation of a will of the people. The crisis of rationality states that rational party behavior leads to irrational voter behavior. The job of the rational party is to obfuscate the differences between the parties, appealing to independents in the middle. Voters then vote irrationally based on personal whim rather than casting a vote which influences the political system. Here, we vote for a candidate because he is good looking, she is black, he went to Harvard or the candidate just has beautiful children. These are irrational votes in the sense that they do not communicate a mandate to the candidate.
Lastly, there has been no party discipline in American politics. All politicians in America, save the presidential candidates once they pass the nomination phase, raise their own money, form their own staff, campaign on their own with little help or influence from the party. Thus, the rational politician, upon entering Congress, makes a rational calculation on all actions: will this help or hurt me to get reelected since the party, if I go along, is not going to benefit me very much. This explains much of the Democrat party=s refusal to follow resident Obama=s lead.
This leads to what might be the biggest campaign lie in all of American politics. The next time you hear any candidate say Aif elected I willYY@ they are either lying because with separation of powers they cannot guarantee anything, or they are ignorant of the theory of the American government. Thus, especially at the presidential level, the result is heightened expectations which can never be fulfilled, guaranteeing failure. The American people are only semisovereign because while our votes exhibit our sovereignty, in fact we have no control over the process or the system. AIf politics is not competitive the people are powerless.@ (Schattschneider, 137) Note the number of noncompetitive seats in the House of Representatives.
On the bright side we might be unknowingly developing Aresponsible parties.@ Pres. Obama is easily the most liberal candidate from a major party America has ever had. Interestingly, Bill Clinton was the most conservative Democratic president of the last century. The House has a majority of Republicans and presents as a very conservative body. The Senate is less so. It is becoming a bit easier for the informed rational voter to hold one side or the other accountable for their actions. Certainly what has developed is, in Schattschneider=s terms, a contagion of conflict. The conflict between the two parties has become like a fight at the flagpole in grade school after class. Everyone runs out to watch. It is then, at least according to Schattschneider, human nature to take sides. The conflict in American politics might seem like a fifth-grade squabble, cf. the kerfuffle over raising the debt limit. But it got people to pay attention to the American government, often in spite of themselves. These voters are then taking sides and can hold politicians and parties accountable. To extend the theory, the next election cycle should have politicians running under the umbrella of their party, uniting under a set of principles be it conservative or liberal. The winner will have a mandate, in this case speaking generally, bigger or smaller government. If the party is elected on this mandate of bigger or smaller government, the politicians in the House and the Senate will also be elected by that same criteria. Thus, the ability to enforce party discipline will be greatly enhanced. We will have responsible parties, greatly reducing the influence of the pressure system.
The downside. This theory assumes a certain type of democracy, ADemocracy is a competitive political system in which competing leaders and organization define the alternative of public policy in such a way that the public can participate in the decision‑‑making process.@ (Schattschneider, 137). What is the problem? As always, as James Madison knew well, in the American political system there is always the possibility of tyranny. Madison=s definition of tyranny was government taking sides, not being neutral as a result of compromise. Especially if we have one party government, which seems likely in the near future, we must maintain a rigorous adherence to separation of powers.