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Cliven Bundy: Conservative’s Pig in a Poke

6:04 pm in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

Ostensibly, Cliven Bundy’s cattle grazing controversy could not have come at a more opportune time for conservatives. The perceived momentum heading into November’s elections had begun to lose some of its steam prompting one Republican strategist to say this week “Republicans may have peaked too early.” Senate races in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina where Democrats were supposed to be in peril seemed to be much closer then had been previously imagined. The ongoing failure on the part of Congressional Republicans to move forward on immigration once again took center stage and the now open warfare within the G.O.P. between the establishment and the Tea Party continues apace. More importantly the monotonous and hackneyed droning on about Obamacare has begun to lose some of it’s resonance in the wake of three facts. One is that 8 million people have signed up for health insurance and secondly, recent polling shows, that while many Americans are unhappy with the Affordable Care Act most of the dissatisfied want it repaired not repealed and replaced. Finally, even if a majority of the disgruntled favored repeal, the Republican Party, after eight years in opposition has yet to construct a health care alternative. Enter the Cliven Bundy cattle controversy into which conservative commentators and pundits of all stripes piled onto with almost reckless abandon, seeking to capitalize on the conservative base’s anti-government fervor only to discover, a few days on, two inconvenient facts that would come back to undermine their latest conservative celebrity du jour.
Cloven Bundy
First, in spite of all of the efforts on the part of conservative commentators to force fit Bundy’s transgressions into a “government overreach” template the fact stands that Bundy has been using federal land for his private cattle on the taxpayer’s dime. A perusal of commentary on that reliably anti-government website TownHall.com, among others, reveals the type of jury-rigged logic employed in much of the commentary posted in support of Bundy. Many would argue that while Bundy might be technically at fault for not paying the Federal government grazing fees his transgression was trumped by his “moral” case against government overreach. Then there is the far-fetched folly of an idea, propagated by Bundy himself, that because he personally does not recognize the existence of the Federal government, that that somehow really matters or changes anything in the real world. Some would see the unfolding incident as the beginning of a new anti-government crusade or at the very least, a revival of the last one.

The inherent fault of the aforementioned “logic” became all the more apparent when Tucker Carlson, host of Fox and Friends, Editor in Chief of the conservative Daily Caller and no friend of the Obama administration, pointed out that Bundy’s actions are neither legal or ethical. Quoting Carlson “…the Bundys don’t have a legal case that I can see, to be totally honest about it. And this is public land. This is not land that they own. And if you are going to use public land for profit, you have to pay for it, and they haven’t. And so the bottom line, and I think this is something conservatives ought to remember, if you want a ranch without any impediment at all, you have to buy your own ranch. That is the essence, that is the core principle behind private property which undergirds conservatism. So I have a lot of sympathy for the Bundys. I think they were completely mistreated by the federal government. But I still think it’s important to point out that this land does not belong to them, and that’s not a minor distinction. It’s the essence of private property.” Carlson’s opinion was seconded by his fellow conservative commentators Juan Williams and A.B. Stoddard, both Fox News regulars and bona fide conservative commentators in their own right. Another important point that undermines the anti-government claque supporting Bundy was made by Timothy Egan in “Deadbeat on the Range” where he pointed out that: “Ranching is hard work. Drought and market swings make it a tough go in many years. That’s all the more reason to praise the 18,000 or so ranchers who pay their grazing fees on time and don’t go whining to Fox or summoning a herd of armed thugs when they renege on their contract. You can understand why the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association wants no part of Bundy.”

While conservative commentators wrestled with the flawed logic of trying to justify Bundy’s trampling of cherished conservative principles with their own penchant to vilify the Federal government no matter the particulars of this case, it was Bundy himself who made his new found friends look all the more foolish by revealing his own intemperate views on race. Bundy’s ill concieved remarks are now well known and need not be repeated here. That said, owing to the ongoing problems that the conservative movement has with the minority communities, Bundy’s comments can only do more harm than good. And herein lies the great irony of Cliven Bundy and his relationship to the conservative movement. For one thing not only has he acted in a manner that is contridictory to the conservative principals and beliefs, he has acted as the very type of “moocher” that conservatives have often attributed to those who occupy government funded housing projects or receive publicly funded assistance. I can only wonder what one of the columnists on TownHall.com, Dr. Ben Carson, must now think having written a post in support of Cliven Bundy. For you see Dr. Carson is an African-American, a retired neurosurgeon, and according to Cliven Bundy, he would be better suited to picking cotton than practicing medicine or opining about politics. Oh and just one more point, why out of some 18,000 plus ranchers does Bundy need a de facto federal handout? Don’t conservatives believe in a competitive market place? If so, why should Bundy get a free ride while his competitors pay their grazing fees without engineering an armed protest? If Bundy can’t profitably run a cattle business without a de facto public handout shouldn’t he be allowed to fail as part of the back and forth of an economically competitive ranching sector? Read the rest of this entry →

Conservatives at a Dead End?

1:02 pm in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

Election day has finally arrived and to true conservatives the final outcome will probably be nothing more than a mixed blessing at best. First and foremost Mitt Romney is hardly a rock ribbed conservative, not if you base your assessment of him on his political track record. He has migrated politically from a Northeastern liberal Republican to a faux “severe conservative” and then back to the center as the political winds have necessitated. Just look at his political maneuvering in the post primary run up to today. He may have disavowed the “Etch-a-Sketch” comments of Eric Fehnstrom but he has surely followed just that strategy, even to the point of largely agreeing with the foreign policies of Barack Obama as evidenced in the third presidential debate. In short there’s little reason to believe that Mitt Romney is anything but a shrewd political charlatan.

For conservatives whatever happens tonight there will still be several nagging questions to address. For one, what became of the “conservative counterrevolution of 2010″? In the wake of the widespread Republican by-election victories we were treated to all manner of editorials and op-eds, both written and on talk radio and Fox News about how America had seen through and rejected the “Socialism” of Barack Obama, returning to a more conservative political mindset. I however always believed that 2010 represented more of a protest vote than anything significant in the way of a fundamental shift in the political paradigm. Support for the notion that 2010 amounts to a protest vote rather than a fundamental shift in the American political landscape can be seen in the decline in popularity of the Tea Party Movement, the increased frustration on the part of the public with Republican Party obstruction in Congress and the increasing numbers of Republicans who have distanced themselves from Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge. Neither does Norquist’s idea that “all that we need is a Republican president with enough digits to sign what’s put before him” appear to resonate very well with the voting public. While more people identify as conservatives than identify as liberals, the net number of those who identify as conservatives is roughly around one third of the American public. If conservative thoughts had really taken hold you would see the numbers of people identifying as conservatives being north of 50% and the presidential race would look a lot different than it does today. Likewise the conservative attacks on Obama’s handling of the economy and posture as a world leader have failed to register with a majority of Americans. If they had Mitt Romney would be ahead by at least 6 to 10 percentage points rather than trailing within the statistical margin of error.

The myth that America is a “center right country” has been faithfully kept alive in the warrens of conservative media but as the polling numbers show on the day of the election, there’s no reason to believe that that idea has anymore validity today than in did in 2008 when Dick Morris claimed the same thing on the weekend before the election saying that: “Republicans were coming home and John McCain would win the election.” If there was anything in the way of a true conservative counterrevolution then where were the true conservative leaders during the Republican primary process? Out of the length and breadth of the conservative movement not a single viable candidate arose to challenge Barack Obama, instead Mitt Romney merely waited out the self destruction of one flawed conservative challenger after another till he was the last man standing. Quoting political commentator Steve Bogden: “Normally, you have a competitive primary. This year, it was an ongoing audition for whoever was going to be the anti-Romney. Almost everybody had their surge, but there were no credible challengers. Cain? Ging­rich? Santorum? Romney didn’t have to ‘win’ this year. He just waited for everyone else to lose.”

If Mitt Romney is lucky enough to win tonight it will be a squeaker and being the shrewd politician that he is he will continue to drift around the center no matter the tone of his rehtoric. He’ll have no other choice if he hopes to be reelected in 2016 and that bodes ill for conservatives who will be hoping that he pushes their agenda forward. I seriously doubt that Romney would ever subscribe to Grover Norquist’s notion that he should be a rubber stamp for a Tea Party Congress. I doubt that Romney sees Norquist and his anti-tax movement as anything more than a political sideshow to the big show of governing. If Barack Obama is lucky enough to win this evening I fully expect to see the usual crisis of confidence reemerge among conservatives when they beat each other up over the idea that “every time we nominate a candidate who moves to the center we lose.” The great irony of this debate is that if they did nominate a far right conservative, and why didn’t they, they would lose anyway. Like the Romney-Ryan economic plan the math just doesn’t add up for conservatives. For all of the bluff and bluster that one hears on Fox, Limbaugh, and across the entire spectrum of right-wing media about the American people being fundamentally conservative it just ain’t so. If it were true we wouldn’t be in essentially a dead heat and Romney would be way out in front. However in spite of four years of a visceral anti-Obama diatribe on the right, a lackluster economy and a threatening world scene there just aren’t enough conservative votes out there to make it happen.

Steven J. Gulitti
11/6/12

The G.O.P. and a Platform Built for the Past‏

7:04 am in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

To hear the pundits and political professionals talk about it, this election is all about turning out a party’s base. That’s because there are few if any undecided voters left and the only undecided voters that count are the ones residing in a handful of swing states. That said the only real purpose of a political party’s platform is to energize and excite the base so that it will turnout en mass to vote, volunteer and hopefully convince others to vote for the party’s candidate. However when you examine much of the Republican Party’s 2012 platform one thing is clear. It may excite the base but it’s not likely to broaden that base in any way that will make a difference this election day or on any election day in the future. If this election really turns out to be a battle of the bases and the Republicans lose then part of that loss may be a direct result of having structured a political platform that alienated more potential voters than it engaged. What’s most interesting is not how much the Republican platform differs from that of today’s Democrats, it’s how drastically it differs from their own of 1980 as detailed in “Republican Party Platforms, Then and Now” cited below. Today’s Republicans are heading back in time not forward and when you read their platform and observe their actions of late and it couldn’t be more obvious, particularly in issues of the culture wars.

Marriage: On the topic of marriage the platform states: “We reaffirm our support for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” This position on marriage is in direct contrast to today’s social trends. If you analyze polling results over the past decade you see a distinct trend away from the idea that same sex marriages or civil unions should have “no legal recognition”, except among Republicans. However what’s interesting here as that even younger Republicans are breaking ranks with their party on social issues. Referencing a recent article “Young in G.O.P. Erase the Lines on Social Issues”, “In a break from generations past and with an eye toward the future, many of the youngest leaders of the Republican Party are embracing views on some social issues that are at odds with traditional conservative ideology…A poll this year by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that the percentage of Republicans ages 18 through 29 who favor same-sex marriage has grown to 37 percent, up from 28 percent eight years ago.” In fact what was even more striking about the RNC is the point to which gays and lesbians were totally absent from the proceedings as per New York Times columnist Frank Bruni: “It was striking because the Republicans went so emphatically far, in terms of stagecraft and storytelling, to profess inclusiveness, and because we gays have been in the news rather a lot over the last year or so, as the march toward marriage equality picked up considerable velocity. We’re a part of the conversation. And our exile from it in Tampa contradicted the high-minded “we’re one America” sentiments that pretty much every speaker spouted.”

Voting Rights: When considering voter fraud initiatives the 1980 Republican platform seems downright liberal: “Republicans support public policies that will promote electoral participation without compromising ballot-box security. We support the repeal of those restrictive campaign spending limitations that tend to create obstacles to local grass roots participation in federal elections.” Now contrast that to the 2012 platform: “we applaud legislation to require photo identification for voting and to prevent election fraud.” But what about those elderly inner city dwellers that no longer have or may have never had a driver’s license or any other form of photo i.d.? To many observers the current crop of voter photo i.d. initiatives and restrictions on early voting initiatives smack of the poll taxes and literacy tests of yesteryear. More to the point there seems to be little in the way of widespread and substantiated voter fraud. An article appearing in People Politico sums up what’s been revealed in other sources: “Again we find, as has been obvious in many other reports, that voter fraud at the polls is so minute and inconsequential that it should outrage all Americans that our politicians are wasting the valuable time they have to try to tackle an issue that doesn’t even exist…Not only did this article dive deep into the entire issue of voter fraud, it used the raw data collected by News21 and their new database to illustrate just how inconsequential in-person, at the polls, voter fraud is. The number of actual cases is somewhere near the 1000th’s of a percent range. That is .001%.”

Guns: Particular specifics of the language on gun rights are especially backward: “We oppose legislation that is intended to restrict our Second Amendment rights by limiting the capacity of clips or magazines or otherwise restoring the ill considered Clinton era gun ban.” While I fully support Second Amendment rights being a gun owner myself and a military reservist who trains with an assault rifle among other weapons, I can’t for the life of me see why anyone outside of law enforcement or the military needs an assault rifle or a high volume clip. Again polling shows that there is little support in the population for unrestricted gun ownership, the civilian use of assault rifles or high capacity clips. In fact polling shows a double digit decline in the opposition to stricter gun laws.

Health Care: The platform is backward looking on the issue of health care: “It states that a Republican president would use his waiver authority to halt progress in implementing the health care act pushed through by President Obama. It proposes a free-market-based plan that gives consumers more choice.” Americans, like the rest of the modern world have tried and failed to have the private sector be the primary engine in delivering adequate affordable health care. America’s Republicans are essentially the only conservative party in the world that is serious in suggesting that government supervised health care should be dismantled. Even the conservatives in Europe are seeking to balance fiscal reform with an underpinning of their country’s social safety nets. The great irony of this is that now, even Mitt Romney has begun to part company with his own party. On this Sunday’s Meet the Press Romney told David Gregory: “I’m not getting rid of all of health care reform. There are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I’m going to put in place. One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage.”

Abortion: While deriding the role of government in our lives Republicans now propose a constitutional amendment to essentially outlaw all abortions: “we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” The backwardness of conservative thinking on reproductive rights hit a new high in the commentary of Republican senatorial candidate Todd Akin whose comments conservative writer Ross Douthat labeled as a blend of “superstition, sexism and stupidity.” While a slight majority of those polled now consider themselves to be pro-life, when the specifics of whether or not abortion should be legal are the issue, consistent majorities say abortion should remain legal to one degree or another. When the specifics of pregnancies due to rape, incest or where a woman’s life or health are endangered the overwhelming majority of poll responders favor abortion. In contrast, the number of respondents who feel that abortion should be “illegal in all circumstances” is seen to be consistently in the low double digits. Moreover, the Republican position on abortion is joined conceptually with backward thinking on the use of contraception and sex education as evidenced by the popularity of the idea that young people should practice abstinence until married as a way of warding off unwanted pregnancies. While the 2012 platform encourages adoption, which is part of the solution in minimizing abortions, it is completely silent on a woman’s right to use contraception and family planning services. It is also silent on the value of sex education as a way of mitigating the need for abortion.

Education: “Republicans support consumer choice, including home schooling, local innovations such as single-sex classes, full-day school hours and year-round schools.” Since when, in a democracy, has education, up to the level of grade 12, been anything but a function of government? Yes we’ve always had prep and parochial schools but they have not been the avenues through which the vast majority of Americans have obtained their educations. With regard to home schooling I’ve known people who have pursued that route and when the parents were well educated it’s worked and where they were lacking in a college education themselves one can only wonder what the final outcome could possibly be. Moreover it would seem to me that single sex classes would serve to retard the social development that coeducational schooling naturally provides. Suffice it to say that in an interconnected and technologically advancing world practices like home schooling and same sex classes would only serve to hinder American development rather than advance it. The bottom line is that ideas such as these belong to a day and age that we left behind long ago.

Taxes: For all of the rhetoric embodied in the 2012 Republican Platform, no matter how you spin it it’s nothing but the old wine of “trickle down” economics in a new bottle. One independent analyst after another has come out and said that the math doesn’t add up and there’s no way that tax breaks for the rich can be enacted without the middle class paying more. These are the policies that have already failed once if not twice already so why try them again?

Labor Unions: The Republican platform derides the current administration as being beholden to the era of union confrontation with management which is odd as only 13 percent of the private sector is currently unionized. It bemoans the now faded support of the card check while completely ignoring the established fact that companies, have for decades, engaged in sophisticated anti-union campaigns aimed at denying workers their rights under existing laws to organize and engage in collective bargaining. The platform claims it will “restore the rule of law” to our national labor relations system by “blocking card check” while remaining completely silent as to the need for restoring the rule of law as it pertains to enforcing existing laws on the books to protect workers in their right to organize and bargain collectively. It “demands” an end to Project Labor Agreements, a practice that has proven highly effective in moving the construction industry forward as it claws its way out of the financial bubble that burst during the last Republican administration. The platform promotes a “National Right to Work” environment which will do nothing but guarantee that non-union workers continue to earn significantly less than they would under a union contract. In a very real sense the Republican Party sees the economic disenfranchisement of America’s workers as a key ingredient in reviving America’s economic prosperity. Thus whatever rationale which previously existed for the so called “Reagan Democrats”, workers who could support the G.O.P., it has long since dissipated and the whole notion of such a thing has long since ceased to make any sense. In fact if you spent anytime watching the Tampa RNC you would think that everything good that ever happened in this country was the work of entrepreneurs. Odd but it never seems to dawn on conservatives that all of the great ideas and the financing that flows to entrepreneurs would amount to nothing if workers didn’t get out bed in the morning and go to work to make it all happen. Capitalism isn’t solely about the bosses; it’s about a partnership between capital, labor and public investment, an essential fact of America’s economic history that seems lost on American conservatives today.

This is not to say that the entire Republican platform of 2012 is completely backward looking. There are parts that acknowledge the need for government investment in infrastructure as an important element in ensuring economic growth but you sure don’t hear much about that from those running for office in this election cycle. Moreover, in a party so transfixed with cutting government spending where will the money come from to build this new infrastructure? Neither from the wealthy nor from the military based on the current rhetoric. The platform also addresses energy independence as if that’s something that the current administration has forgotten but yet this document is merely reiterating what the current administration has already put into motion. A recent article entitled “U.S. Inches Toward Goal of Energy Independence”, along with others cited below, shows how America is in the best position in terms of energy independence than it has been in decades, lying waste to the conservative lie that Barack Obama is not even remotely interested in this country’s energy security. The G.O.P.’s reaffirmation of the need for strong military engagement differs little from that of the present administration in realistic terms and any saber rattling on the part of the Republican Party and the NeoCons needs to be held up to the realities that the American people are tired of overseas military adventures that have yielded little or nothing in the way of enhanced security. In fact today’s version of “The Take Away” on PBS showed that two thirds of the American people felt that the country was no safer as a result of the war in Iraq. That’s sad commentary when assessed against the cost of that war in terms of lives and national treasure. Just imagine what would be if we spent all of the money that went to Iraq on America’s infrastructure, we might no longer even be in recession.

Those who take issue with this article will say that, generally speaking, party platforms aren’t that important. By and large that may be true but as it turns out, this year that’s not the case. Quoting an above referenced article on the 2012 Republican platform, “a poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found more people interested in the GOP platform than in the upcoming acceptance speeches by presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan. The survey found that 52 percent said they were interested in learning about the Republican platform, compared to 44 percent interested in Romney’s speech and 46 percent interested in Ryan’s.” That said it goes without saying that more people, especially independent voters are more likely to be turned off by what the G.O.P. has on offer than excited by it. The Republican Party lags the Democrats by around 10 points when it comes to favorability. The Republican Party in Congress is one of the least liked organizations in America. Combine that with the fact that Mitt Romney is hardly loved by his own party and a vote for Romney is really a vote against Obama and you have the makings of a major shortcoming for a party and a movement that, given public sentiment and the state of the economy, should be out in front in this election by 5 to 10 points.

In an article I wrote in February of 2009, “The Challenge of a New Morning in America”, I pointed out that the Republican Party was in a state of ideological exhaustion having little or nothing to say that was relevant for the age of globalized economic and political competition other than to watch you’re spending. When you look over the content of the G.O.P’s 2012 political platform it appears that this is still the case and that’s not good news for a party trying to recapture the government or a conservative movement that’s supposed to be ascendant.

Steven J. Gulitti

9/11/12

Sources:
2012 Republican Party Platform; http://www.scribd.com/doc/104221532/2012-Gop-Platform

GOP votes for tough-talking platform: http://www.onlinesentinel.com/news/in-focus-election-2012_2012-08-29.html

Platform’s Sharp Turn to Right Has Conservatives Cheering; http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/29/us/politics/republican-platform-takes-turn-to-right.html?emc=eta1

Republican Party Platforms, Then and Now; http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/08/29/us/politics/republican-party-platforms-now-and-then.html?emc=eta1

Ross Douthat: The Democrats’ Abortion Moment; http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/opinion/sunday/douthat-the-democrats-abortion-moment.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

Polling Report.com – Same-Sex Marriage, Gay Rights; http://www.pollingreport.com/civil.htm

Young in G.O.P. Erase the Lines on Social Issues; http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/09/us/politics/young-republicans-erase-lines-on-social-issues.html?emc=eta1

Voter Fraud: More Evidence of No Evidence; http://www.peoplepolitico.com/index.php/2012/08/voter-fraud-more-evidence-of-no-evidence/

Election Fraud in America; http://votingrights.news21.com/interactive/election-fraud-database/

Frank Bruni – Excluded From Inclusion; http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/02/opinion/sunday/bruni-excluded-from-inclusion.html?emc=eta1

Polling Report.com – Gun Laws; http://www.pollingreport.com/guns.htm

Romney, Easing, Says Health Law Isn’t All Bad; http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/10/us/politics/romney-adopts-softer-tone-in-critique-of-obama.html

It Will Be Tricky for Romney to Keep Best of Health Law While Repealing It; http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/11/us/politics/romneys-pledge-shows-repealing-health-law-to-be-complex.html?ref=todayspaper

Polling Report.com – Abortion; http://www.pollingreport.com/abortion.htm

U.S. Inches Toward Goal of Energy Independence; http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/23/business/energy-environment/inching-toward-energy-independence-in-america.html?emc=eta1

Viewpoint: Gas Prices and the Great GOP Lie

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2109474,00.html?artId=2109474?contType=article?chn=sciHealth

Gulf of Mexico activity continues to escalate; http://www.workboat.com/Blogs/Offshore-Outlook/Gulf-of-Mexico-activity-continues-to-escalate/?utm_source=NewsLinks&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=InformzNews

Massive oil and gas lease shows ‘Gulf is back’; http://www.workboat.com/Online-Features/2012/Massive-oil-and-gas-lease-shows–Gulf-is-back-/?utm_source=NewsLinks&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=InformzNews

The Challenge of a New Morning in America; http://open.salon.com/blog/steven_j_gulitti/2009/02/01/the_challenge_of_a_new_morning_in_america

The Unintended Consequences of Citizens United?

1:09 pm in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

Quoting Arianna Huffington:”Though the country is sorely in need of solutions, and the public hungry for real debate, that’s not what was served up in Iowa [or in New Hampshire] – either by the candidates or the vast pack of media covering their every word. What we got instead was a deluge of attack ads, largely financed by the super PACs allowed by the Citizens United decision. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 264 super PACs have been spawned for the 2012 race and they’ve already spent almost half of the $32 million they’ve raised. Perhaps this disconnect between what people are really concerned about and what the candidates are talking about is why only 17 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going” Campaign 2012: The Disconnect Widens; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/new-hampshire-2012_b_1196161.html

So this brings up the question of what may be one of the great unintended developments resulting from Citizens United: Has its effect spawned an avalanche of intraparty attacks within the conservative movement that may cripple if not badly hamper the prospects of many of the remaining 2012 contenders? We saw Gingrich upended in Iowa and the same thing is already happening to Santorum. Now when Citizens was decided there was much jubilation on the right and dismay on the left as it open the doors for folks like the Koch Brothers to spend as much as they wanted to influence elections. And yes, the same is true for labor unions, Hollywood stars and George Soros.
 
But look at what is happening within the G.O.P. thus far. The unlimited amounts of money flowing into the primary process is creating unlimited opportunities for the well financed candidates, particularly Romney, to bury their competition alive in negative attack ads thereby closing out alternative conservative positions and leaving the radicalized Republican base with several inconvenient choices. The far right may very well be faced with voting for a Republican moderate, staying home which may result in the reelection of Barack Obama or voting for a third party splinter candidate which would amount to a vote thrown away. Then there’s also that ineffective procedure of the write in vote which serves as nothing more than a symbolic protest as the voter can say he performed his civic duty without having to take any responsibility for who is actually elected as it probably would never be his guy.
 
Now since Mitt Romney is a moderate and progressive Republican who has the most to spend and has thus far effectively done so, the unintended consequences of Citizens has, to date, been to short circuit those Republicans to the right of Romney. So that begs the question, if Romney has most of the money to spend on attack ads and the more conservative contenders are woefully underfunded, will Citizens United work to the detriment of the radical right and ensure that we have an election between two progressives, one a Democrat, the other a Republican? Moreover what does it say about the much feared influence of the likes of the Koch Brothers and other wealthy conservatives if their money flows to moderate and progressive Republicans thereby starving the radically right-wing contenders of needed funding? Could it be that America’s wealthy elite knows that some degree of progressive measures are required and desirable in a modern democracy and that the agenda of the radical right is just to extreme to be workable? Is this an indication that these same conservatives were happy to have the support of the radical right as a brake on Barack Obama’s thrust to the left but now that his momentum has slowed, they’ve largely shunted the right-wing radicals to the political periphery? While this may not seem all that evident now, the far right will have a hard time competing if it can’t keep up with the money flowing into the Romney camp or the Obama reelection campaign either, for that matter.
 
While a Romney victory in November wouldn’t be exactly what the Democratic base wanted, the precluding of a Tea Party backed presidential victory by the election of Mitt Romney would surely be a consolation prize for the defeated Democrats. If that’s the case then Citizens United will have harmed the radical right far more than it harmed any other element within the American political system. I Think it goes without saying that few if any on the left or the right ever saw this as the likely outcome of the Citizens United decision.
 
 
Steven J. Gulitti
1/17/12

Don’t Conservatives Think America is Great?

7:18 pm in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

I thought it was a standard line coming out of the right, that the “progressives” and liberals don’t respect America’s greatness, that they don’t believe in American Exceptionalism and that conservatives do and they uphold that belief no matter what. You know, it’s those weak kneed “progressives” who are always apologizing for something America did somewhere that hurt someone, conservatives would never do that! Well if that’s the case, then why are some conservatives running a political action committee called “Make Us Great Again”? If we are already great then why would we have to reinvigorate our own existing greatness? Looking at it logically, if conservatives believed we were truly great wouldn’t they call their PAC “Make America Greater”?

I don’t know about you but I’m starting to think that some conservatives don’t really believe that we are really that great so we need to do something in order to be great again. What I suspect is that they have a particular, if not peculiar version of “greatness” that most of the rest of us would find a lot less than great no matter how you measure greatness.

“Make Us Great Again” is in fact, a PAC set up to funnel unlimited amounts of money into the campaign of Rick Perry. Its Mission Statement is: “The mission of Make Us Great Again is to support Rick Perry for the Republican nomination for President in 2012, to oppose Barack Obama’s reelection, and to support Rick Perry in the general election in November 2012.” Ah, now I see the logic, we’ll elect as president a guy who can’t remember what parts of government he wants to eliminate, who accuses Ben Bernanke of treason and who suggests that Texas could leave the Union and this guy will restore us to “greatness”!

Rick Perry is probably a really nice guy who believes in his heart of hearts that he knows what’s best for America but I hardly find the road to renewed or enhanced
American greatness on the pages of his playbook. Likewise I don’t think I’d find a suitable substitute on too many of the playbooks of our conservative presidential contenders in the run up to 2012.

SJG

11/16/11

Tea Party Takes a Hit in Debt Ceiling Debate

4:10 pm in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

Back in April I pointed out in “The Fading Allure of the Tea Party Movement” just how much the popularity of the movement had fallen in the eyes of the American people. Well just as one would have imagined, the rancor and vitriol surrounding the debt ceiling debate has only served to drive the public image of the Tea Party movement further into negative territory, taking the Republican Party along with it for the ride as well.

Kate Zernike author of “Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America” interprets the results of the latest New York Times/CBS Poll, which deals, in part, with the Tea Party as follows:

1) “The percentage of people with an unfavorable view of the Tea Party in a New York Times/CBS Poll this week was higher than it has been since the first time the question was asked, in April 2010. Forty percent of those polled this week characterized their view as “not favorable,” compared with 18 percent in the first poll.”

2) “In the first poll, a plurality, 46 percent, said they had not heard enough about the Tea Party to have an opinion. Now, just 21 percent said they had not heard enough. The Tea Party may have benefited early on from people not really knowing exactly what it was.

3) “On Election Day, while 4 in 10 voters said they were Tea Party supporters, many might not have known what they were signing up for. The debate over the debt ceiling gave people a more concrete picture: Tea Party groups and members of the Tea Party caucus in the House and Senate…insisted that they would not raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances. Members of the American public, meanwhile, including Tea Party supporters, were telling pollsters that they wanted compromise, not inflexibility.”

4) “Tea Party groups and lawmakers made debt reduction their priority, but many Americans said creating jobs was more important. And while many Republicans, influenced by the Tea Party, insisted that they would not allow any increases in tax revenue, a majority of Americans said debt reduction had to include higher taxes as well as lower spending.”

5) “In the most recent poll, most Americans took a negative view of the debt-ceiling negotiations, seeing them as “mostly about gaining political advantage.” With Republicans in charge of the House, more of the blame fell on them. And many people — a 43 percent plurality — saw the Tea Party as having too much influence on Republicans. But a plurality of independents, too — 40 percent — viewed the Tea Party negatively, and said it had too much influence on the Republican Party.” This same poll found that the public’s disapproval of how Congress is handling its job is at a record all time high of 82 percent. Republicans, thanks to their Tea Party affiliation took a bigger hit than did the Democrats and a far larger hit than President Obama himself.

It’s not just the pollsters and the liberal pundits who have taken aim at the Tea Party movement. Conservatives with established bona fides like David Frum, Bruce Bartlett and Michael Barone have all brought scathing criticism to bear on the movement of late. Frum in his latest, “Wake up GOP: Smashing System Doesn’t Fix It” observed: “Only about one-third of Republicans agree that cutting government spending should be the country’s top priority. Only about one-quarter of Republicans insist the budget be balanced without any tax increases. Yet that one-third and that one-quarter have come to dominate my party. That one-third and that one-quarter forced a debt standoff that could have ended in default and a second Great Recession…Unemployment is a more urgent problem than debt. The deficit is a symptom of America’s economic problems, not a cause. The time to cut is after the economy recovers. The place to cut is health care, not assistance to the unemployed and poor. We can collect more revenue without raising tax rates.”

But it is beyond these basic observations of economics that Frum puts his finger on the essential recklessness of the Tea Party movement and shows just what a threat the movement has become for not only the G.O.P. but for the American economic system as well. Again quoting Frum: “Passion does not substitute for judgment…Republicans and conservatives have worked themselves into a frenzy of rage and contempt for President Barack Obama… as if the supreme goal of policy in this time of economic hardship were to fix the blame for all problems on the president. This exercise in finger-pointing satisfies the emotions of the Republican base. It does not accurately explain the causes of the crisis or offer plausible remedies. You can’t save the system by destroying the system. In their passion, Republicans convinced themselves that the constitutional republic and the free-enterprise system were threatened as never before. Their response? To threaten to blow up the free-enterprise system and wreck the republic unless they gained their point. Republicans have become so gripped by pessimism and panic that they feel they have nothing to lose by rushing into a catastrophe now. But there is a lot to lose, and in these past weeks America nearly lost it. Let’s hope that as America steps back from the brink, Republicans remember that it’s their job to protect the system, not to smash the system in hopes of building something better from the ruins. That’s how student radicals think — not conservatives.”

Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner, in analyzing the upcoming 2012 elections points out that the Tea Party has had the net effect of pushing Republicans into advocating positions, while out of office, that no president could ever hope to achieve once elected. “Most of these candidates are obviously seeking to appeal to the millions of ordinary citizens who have become active in politics over the past several years, notably in the Tea Party. That movement, as I’ve written, has on balance strengthened the Republican Party, propelling it to an impressive victory last November. But it may be weakening the Republican Party in 2012 by demanding that its presidential candidates take positions that no president could ever take… Sometime between now and the first caucuses and primaries some of these candidates may present a more serious fiscal and economic platform than any of them has so far. In the meantime it’s tempting to seek quick votes by promising the impossible and pledging to do things no president ever would.” Bruce Bartlett, former Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary under the first George Bush and a policy adviser to Ronald Reagan appearing on MSNBC’s Hardball on July 27 to discuss the degree to which our current debt crisis is a legacy of Republican administrations had this to say of the Tea Party on Capitol Hill, “I think that a good chunk of the Republican Caucus is either stupid, crazy, ignorant, or craven cowards that are desperately afraid of the Tea Party people, and rightly so.”

The observations analyzed above would lead the prudent and rational observer of American politics to suspect that the long term viability of the Tea Party movement is far from solid or certain. Having failed in preventing a rise in the debt ceiling while at the same time being out of step with public opinion on whether or not job creation is more important than debt reduction can only serve to ultimately drive the Tea Party movement further from the mainstream than it is already. Moreover, the reality of right-wing radicalism wrecking havoc inside the political process at a time of crisis is anything but reassuring to a worried nation. This in turn can only spell disaster for the movement in the next election cycle. For the Tea Party movement the debt ceiling debate may be the beginning of the end for the movement as a major force in American politics.

Steven J. Gulitti

8/8/11

Sources:

The Fading Allure of the Tea Party Movement

http://open.salon.com/blog/steven_j_gulitti/2011/04/23/the_fading_allure_of_the_tea_party_movement

Poll Shows Negative View of Tea Party on the Rise

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/05/us/politics/05teaparty.html?emc=eta1

Disapproval Rate for Congress at Record 82% After Debt Talks

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/05/us/politics/05poll.html?emc=eta1

Wake up GOP: Smashing system doesn’t fix it

http://articles.cnn.com/2011-08-01/opinion/frum.debt.republicans_1_government-spending-unemployment-insurance-tax-increases?_s=PM:OPINION

‘Hardball with Chris Matthews’ for Wednesday, July 27, 2011

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43928001/ns/msnbc_tv-hardball_with_chris_matthews/t/hardball-chris-matthews-wednesday-july/

Michael Barone: Chasing votes by promising to do impossible things

http://washingtonexaminer.com/politics/2011/08/chasing-votes-promising-do-impossible-things

Mislead Enough Already: An Emerging Tea Party Dilemma

1:05 pm in Politics, Republican Party by SJGulitti

Taxes, more than any other issue is what drives the Tea Party movement. Thus those philosophical arguments related to taxation and the resulting size of government constitute the very essence of the rationale for the movement’s existence. How then will the movement react and adapt to the latest findings of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which reveal the movement’s essential positions to be clearly at odds with empirical facts? As such, the Tea Party movement may soon find that the very rationale for its existence is being fundamentally challenged by a reality very much at variance with the movement’s belief system. Likewise, the Republican rhetoric about taxes increasing may also start to ring hollow.

The Bureau’s findings as reported by UPI are as follows: “Including state, federal and local taxes — with sales tax and property tax thrown in — the average tax bill came out to 9.2 percent of personal income in 2009…. That’s down from an average of 12 percent over the past 50 years. The tax burden has not been this low since 1950…The U.S. tax burden has shrunk to its lowest level in 60 years…The tax rate has fallen 26 percent since 2007, a sharp drop that reflects progressive tax rates passed during the Clinton and Bush administrations and the 2009 federal stimulus bill that cut taxes by $800 for married couples earning up to $150,000.” The Bureau’s findings are just the latest in a growing body of evidence that refutes the basic premise which the Tea Party movement relies upon to energize its followers and fuel it’s much hoped for transformation of American government. In a piece that followed this years Tax Day Protests, the Associated Press observed: “Lost in the rhetoric was that taxes have gone down under Obama. Congress has cut individuals’ federal taxes for this year by about $173 billion, leaving Americans with a lighter load despite nearly $29 billion in increases by states.”

In an article, which appeared in Forbes in March; “The Misinformed Tea Party Movement”, conservative writer Bruce Bartlett outlined just how little members of the Tea Party movement actually knew about the structure and level of taxation. Utilizing a survey of movement protestors at a recent rally Bartlett found: “Tuesday’s Tea Party crowd, however, thought that federal taxes were almost three times as high as they actually are. The average response was 42% of GDP and the median 40%. The highest figure recorded in all of American history was half those figures: 20.9% at the peak of World War II in 1944… In short, no matter how one slices the data, the Tea Party crowd appears to believe that federal taxes are very considerably higher than they actually are, whether referring to total taxes as a share of GDP or in terms of the taxes paid by a typical family.” In contrast in 2009 the corresponding number was 14.8%. When it comes to the structure and composition of taxes, the Bartlett article is chock full of repudiation for just about everything that the Tea Partiers believe in and that does not bode well for a movement that has as one of it’s stated goals, the reconstitution of the size of American government based on its belief that taxes are too high and that they will crowd private borrowers out of the credit markets. Bartlett sums up his skeptisim of the Tea Party movement with an insightful statement that points out just how confused the Tea Partiers may be: “It’s hard to explain this divergence between perception and reality. Perhaps these people haven’t calculated their tax returns for 2009 yet and simply don’t know what they owe. Or perhaps they just assume that because a Democrat is president that taxes must have gone up, because that’s what Republicans say that Democrats always do. In fact, there hasn’t been a federal tax increase of any significance in this country since 1993.” And to think, such an observation would roll off the tonuge of an economic censervative who once promoted supply-side theories and who had also worked for Ron Paul!

Ironically, its not just on the issue of taxes that the Tea Party movement is in a bit of a pickle. For one thing, the movement’s overall lack of a cohesive strategy for affecting political change works against its durability as a force on the American politcal scene. Atlantic’s Michael Kinsley points out that unlike the anti-war movement of the 1960s which had a central theme and aim, the Tea Party movement is so fractionalized in terms of leadership and difuse in its overall ideological makeup so as to be more than a little precarious as a long term movement with staying power. Quoting Kinsley:” Not only do TPPs (Tea Party Patriots) not have one big issue like Vietnam—they disagree about many of their smaller issues. What unites them is a more abstract resentment, an intensity of feeling rather than any concrete complaint or goal.” Kinsley points out that in their undefined frustrations the Tea Partiers have in affect discarded the much-cherished notion so dear to the conservative credo, self responsibility, in that everyone’s problems can be directly traced back to Washington D.C. or their state capitol. Kinsley defines this inherent flaw in the movement as follows: “Personal responsibility” has been a great conservative theme in recent decades, in response to the growth of the welfare state. It is a common theme among TPPs—even in response to health-care reform, as if losing your job and then getting cancer is something you shouldn’t have allowed to happen to yourself. But these days, conservatives far outdo liberals in excusing citizens from personal responsibility. To the TPPs, all of our problems are the fault of the government, and the government is a great “other,” a hideous monster over which we have no control. It spends our money and runs up vast deficits for mysterious reasons all its own. At bottom, this is a suspicion not of government but of democracy. After all, who elected this monster?”

There is one other major time bomb ticking away inside the Tea Party movement, and that is the company it keeps. Who are the leading personalities associated with the movement, none other than some of the most controversial characters alive in American politics today: Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Glenn Beck. If Bachmann and Palin weren’t the Thelma and Louise of the far right, who would it be? I mean if the G.O.P. ever were to find itself in the back seat of their car they will, like the movie characters find themselves on a joy ride off of a cliff and heading straight for political disaster. It goes without saying, that having Beck as the Tea Party movement’s most vocal media personality leaves allot to be desired, unless your aim is to turn the movement into a laughingstock. After all, can you put together a more gruesome threesome than the aforementioned when it comes to alienating independents from the Republican Party? I doubt it.

Lets face it, if it were not for the fact that the Tea Party movement has become the primary pawn in the ideological proxy war between MSNBC and Fox News, its presence on the American political landscape would be far less visible. A recent Quinnipiac Poll found that only 13 percent of American voters say they are part of the Tea Party movement and that this group is largely white, had supported McCain and presently backs Sarah Palin. But in what could be the most telling piece of evidence derived from the Quinnipiac Poll is that: “Overall, this survey paints a picture of the Tea Party movement that encompasses a broad swath of the American middle class, but clearly at this stage one that is a minority group. In essence their numbers equate to about the size of the African-American electorate overall,” That said and with that empirical evidence in hand, does anyone really think for a second that the future of American Conservatism or its fellow traveler the G.O.P. is best served by hitching its wagon to the Tea Party movement, especially when that movement has been exposed as containing a fundamental philosophical credo that is so starkly at variance with established political facts and trends.

Steven J. Gulitti
New York City
May 12, 2010

Sources:

1) U.S. tax burden at lowest point in years http://www.upi.com/Business_News/2010/05/11/US-tax-burden-at-lowest-point-in-years/UPI-74091273594893/

2) The Misinformed Tea Party Movement by Bruce Bartlett, 03.19.10, http://www.forbes.com/2010/03/18/tea-party-ignorant-taxes-opinions-columnists-bruce-bartlett.html

3) Tea Party Rally Upbraids ‘Gangster Government’ by The Associated Presshttp://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125251286&sc=emaf.

4) My Country, Tis of Me, There’s nothing patriotic about the Tea Party Patriots. by Michael Kinsleyhttp://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/04/my-country-tis-of-me/8088/

5) QUINNIPIAC UNIVERSITY NATIONAL POLL: TEA PARTY COULD HURT GOPhttp://thepage.time.com/quinnipiac-university-national-poll-tea-party-could-hurt-gop/

Coming Unhinged On the Far Right

2:32 pm in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

I for one am not surprised at the reports surfacing over the last twenty four hours that there have been attacks, threats and vandalism aimed at Democrats who voted in favor of health care reform. As of this morning there are ten such reported cases, including one that suggested Congressmen (D-MI) should drown himself. Congresswoman Giffords (D-AZ) had the windows of her hometown office broken by some unidentified projectile. There has also been a report of an attack on a Congressman’s family member that if accurate, would constitute a federal crime. Having witnessed Congressmen and Senators being spit upon and subject to racial and homosexual slurs by anti-government fanatics this past weekend, why would anyone be surprised by this latest display of incivility?

Shortly after the inauguration of Barack Obama the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning that an increase in domestic anti-government violence was a distinct possibility. This report was the subject of much derision from the Right at the time but consider what has happened since then. Since the election of Barack Obama we have had a guy in Pittsburg kill policemen because he was angry that the government was now “Run by Jews” and that it would “take his guns away”. We had a guy kill a doctor who performed abortions and then try to frame himself as a patriot in so doing. Sorry but murder is not patriotic. We had a murder at the Holocaust Museum by an individual who when captured said: “This is how you’ll get my guns from me”. Another anti-government zealot crashed his plane into the IRS building in Austin Texas as if that would in some way actually contribute to the abolition of the agency. In reality, all that this action accomplished was the killing of an innocent man. Only the Pentagon subway stop shooting can legitimately be classified as the work of a mentally incapacitated person, regardless of his anti-government rant. All summer long we had to watch the farcical spectacle of Tea Party patriots playing minuteman by bringing loaded weapons to rallies while holding signs that suggested it was time for a second American Revolution. There are many who will read this and try to make an argument that political violence is now somehow justified, alluding to some sort of Revolutionary War fantasy. There has been all manner of infatuation with ideas of an armed “citizens revolt”; a military coup, even talk of an attempt on the life of the President, all of it being nothing more than the pipe dream of people who have now become political dead enders. It is to be noted by all that these far right fanatics have been aided and abetted in their dangerous fantasies by the reckless rhetoric of Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the professional political entertainers on the far right who masquerade as legitimate political commentators.

The Republican Minority Leader, John Boehner (R-OH) has already issued a statement condemning violence on the floor of the House of Representatives. That is surely commendable as no informed observer of American politics would for a moment believe that the G.O.P. is in favor of such a thing. But I would also urge Congressman Boehner to direct his comments to some in his own party, like Michele Bachmann (R-MN) or those like her who have a history of incendiary anti-government rhetoric in their political track record. When an elected official engages in blatantly reckless and inflammatory behavior it only serves to stoke up the sentiments of those on the far right fringe and can serve, in their minds, as a “call to action.” In his assessment of the Republican debacle that has arisen from the passage of health care reform, the veteran conservative commentator David Frum observed: “We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat. There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible… So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, its mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, its Waterloo all right: ours.” The degree to which increasing levels of political violence detracts or derails the message of the Republican Party in the future is unknowable at this time. But for an organization that is polling the lowest favorability numbers in its history, it is just one more reason for people to disregard the G.O.P. message on Election Day and one more problem the Republican Party can do without.

There will be those on the Right who will issue the counter argument that all one need do is to look back to the sixties and you will find plenty of violence perpetrated by the left. Some will conjure up the various red scares of the past and say that there has been more than on instance in American history where Communists in labor unions and among university professors sought to overthrow or subvert the American way of life. But you can tally up all of the left wing violence in the history of this country and you won’t put a dent in the death toll from the Oklahoma City Bombing, an act perpetrated by a violently anti-government fanatic. It is for that reason that it is now the patriotic duty of every American to stand up to the fanatics on the far right, be it at political rallies, on the streets, in the blogs, by calling in to talk radio, by text messaging the Glenn Beck show, etc., or by writing to the media organizations that sanction such programming and registering you opposition to this virulent rhetoric that only serves to fuel politically driven violence and intolerance. The next time some right wing crackpot tells you that he and his compatriots are going to “take back their country” ask them from whom, the people who voted in the majority for change. It is time for Progressives to stand up to thugs and fanatics of any stripe, be they far to either the left or right, and to no longer tolerate threats of violence on the part of those who having lost out in the political arena, have chosen to attempt change through extra legal means.

In an interview following the attack on her office, Congresswoman Giffords said that America was a beacon around the world because we create change via the ballot box and not through political violence and intimidation. In thinking back upon much of the rhetoric from the right that has surrounded the advent of the Obama Administration, I can not help but to recall the warning that Sinclair Lewis made back in the 1930s: “If Fascism ever comes to the United States it will be wrapped in the flag and borne upon a crucifix”. In spite of the fact that the country was in a far more perilous position then than it is now, Lewis’ words were as relevant today as they were in the midst of the Great Depression and they should be on the minds of every true American patriot.

Steven J. Gulitti

March 25, 2010

The Flawed Logic of William Kristol

8:10 am in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

In a recent Washington Post article titled “A Good Time to be a Conservative”; Mr. Kristol made a bold assumption, claiming the “center of gravity” within the Republican Party would shift farther to the right, propelled in that direction by a collection of conservative personalities from beyond the Beltway. Indicating a lack of faith in the G.O.P.’s elected leadership, Kristol says: “Even if Republicans pick up the House in 2010, the party’s big ideas and themes for the 2012 presidential race will probably not emanate from Capitol Hill. The center of gravity, I suspect, will instead lie with individuals such as Palin and Huckabee and Gingrich, media personalities like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and activists at town halls and tea parties. Some will lament this — but over the past year, as those voices have dominated, conservatism has done pretty well in the body politic, and Republicans have narrowed the gap with Democrats in test ballots.” Kristol’s logic is derived from two polls. First, the Gallup Poll of October 26, 2009 that puts the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as conservatives at 40 percent, and an earlier Rasmussen Poll indicating that the only 2012 Republican presidential prospects polling double digits are Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. When one looks inside the numbers, it would appear that there are more than a few flaws in Mr. Kristol’s math and intuitive reasoning.

The Gallup results show that the net increase in the percentage of people identifying as conservatives had taken place within that subset of the electorate classified as independents. Quoting Gallup: “Changes among political independents appear to be the main reason the percentage of conservatives has increased nationally over the past year: the 35% of independents describing their views as conservative in 2009 is up from 29% in 2008. By contrast, among Republicans and Democrats, the percentage who are "conservative" has increased by one point each.” In spite of the shift in independents identifying as conservatives, the actual percentage of voters who identify with the G.O.P., which is the defacto conservative party, has fallen to historical lows. The latest political identification polling results available on Pollster.com reveals that just 25 percent of those polled identify themselves as Republicans. That percentage improves when registered and likely voters are polled, but the G.O.P. still trails the Democrats here as well. To date, had independents firmly embraced the principles of the conservative movement generally or the G.O.P. in particular, the percentage of voters identifying as Republicans would show a marked increase and so far that is not the case. I would argue that the shift to the right among independent voters is far from solid and is conditional, being subject to a set of factors that will likely change by the time of the 2012 election. In fact an even newer Gallup Poll reveals just how transient independent political attitudes actually are. That poll: “Race for 2010 Remains Close; Democrats Recover Slight Lead”, which came out on December 14 states: “The current generic-ballot results are similar to those Gallup found in July and October of this year, and indicate that the Republican gain observed just after the Nov. 3 elections was not sustained. Shifts in candidate preference for Congress typically occur primarily among independents, whose "unanchored" status makes them much more vulnerable to short-term events in the political environment than are those who claim allegiance to either major party.” I would go beyond the latest Gallup findings to suggest that the number of independents identifying as conservatives will decrease proportionately to the degree to which the G.O.P. moves to the right, especially if the Republican Party finds its public image welded to the personalities of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin or the Tea Party crowd.

In his reliance on the results of the above cited Rasmussen Poll, Mr. Kristol is in effect betting the house on a collection of would be candidates that, in spite of polling in the double digits, leave much to be desired when it actually comes to getting elected. Kristol is one of Sarah Palin’s most passionate cheerleaders, but in suggesting that the future of the conservative movement might lie in the fortunes of Ms. Palin, he seems to be gambling on a horse not worth the wager. Mid-December poll results from both Pollster.com and Polling Report.com show Palin registering an unfavorable rating of 48 percent. An ABC poll of November 15th showed that 53 percent of respondents would not vote for Palin with 60 percent saying she was not qualified to be president. More damaging still is a CBS poll of November 15, which revealed that 62 percent of those Republicans polled felt that Palin lacked the ability to be an effective president. At the time of Palin’s resignation from elected office, Republican strategist Mike Murphy opined: “If the Sarah Palin we perceive today wins the nomination in 2012, the G.O.P. will lose. Most Americans don’t think Palin is ready to be President. The base loving you is not enough to get you elected.” Conservative columnist Michael Gerson, reflecting on Palin’s resignation said: “She really alienated women and the college educated on both coasts and that is not how you rebuild the Republican Party.” The reality is that the Republican Party cannot hope to win without the support of independent voters, whom Palin clearly alienates and whose ranks are, according to Pew Research, now at a seventy-year high. Recently, two Republican heavyweights: Haley Barbour, former Chairman of the RNC, and Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA) both declined to endorse a 2012 Palin presidential bid when they appeared on MSNBC and Fox News.

In spite of the fact that Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have double-digit support among Republicans, none of them breaks a 40 percent favorability rating among voters generally, except Huckabee. However, Huckabee’s 40 percent approval rating was registered before Maurice Clemmons, an inmate pardoned by Huckabee, gunned down four police officers in late November. That said, we might see a decline in Huckabee’s overall standing in the polls. Poll numbers aside, in the 2008 Republican primaries, Huckabee was only able to win in the south and thus his viability as a national candidate is questionable. Furthermore, Huckabee’s past equivocation on the topic of evolution works to his detriment when it comes to appealing to that large segment of the population that believes in science as well as religion. Mitt Romney, as a result of his Mormon faith, had problems with the evangelical base of the G.O.P., which plays a crucial role in the early primary states of Iowa and South Carolina. Moreover, Romney may well run into formidable headwinds from the far right as a result of his relatively moderate approach to politics and policy positions. Newt Gingrich, who’s favorable ratings are the lowest, at 14 percent, has a closet full of skeletons of his own which led in 1998 to his stepping down as the Speaker of the House and his departure from Congress altogether. Needless to say these issues will surely be resurrected and they will be in the forefront of the debate in the event that Gingrich becomes a serious presidential contender.

It is in his rather absurd suggestion that the G.O.P.’s center of gravity might travel further to the right as a function of the influence of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or the Tea Party Movement, that Kristol, having slipped his moorings to reality, has embarked on what can only be considered a voyage of political fantasy. Neither Limbaugh nor Beck are particularly compelling personalities beyond the realm of their audience. Both traffic in the sensational, often blurring the lines between fact and fiction with their primary purpose being incendiary commentary rather than legitimate hard news analysis. The media watchdog, Media Matters for America has compiled fifty-three pages of citations detailing Limbaugh’s distortion of facts or their deliberate misrepresentation for political purposes. For Glenn Beck there are forty-two pages. The latest NBC/WSJ poll (June 2009), which I was able to find on Limbaugh’s popularity, showed that 50 percent of those responding viewed him in a negative light. A similar poll in September showed Glenn Beck registering a positive rating of just 25 percent. In spite of the fact that both Limbaugh and Beck have a committed following, accurately measuring the true size and composition of their respective audiences and the extent to which they actually reflect more than a thin slice of this country’s political spectrum is almost impossible. Paul Farhi of the Washington Post attempted to plumb the length and breadth of Limbaugh’s audience and therefore his influence, in a March 2009 article: “Limbaugh’s Audience Size? It’s Largely Up in the Air.” Relying on interviews with media industry sources, Farhi claims that Limbaugh’s audience fluctuates between 14 to 30 million, depending on the issues of the day. Quoting Michael Harrison of “Talkers Magazine”, Farhi puts Limbaugh’s average audience at 14.25 million listeners per week, which is just under 5 percent of the population. Glenn Beck’s audience is far smaller and his largest audience to date was roughly 3.4 million viewers on September 15, 2009, which amounts to just 1.1 percent of the population.

When it comes to the Tea Party Movement, it is equally difficult in coming to an agreement as to just how many people are involved here and to what extent they really reflect more than a microcosm of American political life. According to the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, a pro-Tea Party group, just 578,000 people participated in the 2009 April Tax Day Protests. Their website does not display figures for the July 4th protests nor does FreedomWorks.com or any other pro-Tea Party website that I came across. The largest number I remember seeing is in the neighborhood of 215,000 protestors. Regarding the September 12th Washington D.C. protest rally, Talking Points Memo described the turnout as follows: “FreedomWorks, the main organizers of the Tea Party event in Washington this past weekend, has dramatically lowered its estimate for the size of the crowd at the event from 1.5 million, a number the group now concedes was a mistake, to between 600,000 and 800,000 people — though this is still substantially more than the tens of thousands that most mainstream media outlets have estimated, and which FreedomWorks wholeheartedly rejects.” Thus if we add up the total attendence at all three Tea Parties, using the higher estimates, we come up with a gross attendence of roughly 1.6 million or just one half of one percent of the population.

What the math reveals is that the actual number of people who either participate in Tea Parties or who listen to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, presumably many do both, is a rather small percentage of the overall population, even considering that portion that would identify as conservative. That said, its a bit of a strectch to assume that such a statistically insignificant number of people is either enough to move the Republican Party further to the right or that it is likely to do so.

There is one final flaw in Kristol’s analysis and that is his ignoring the rising tide of moderates within the party that are opposing any suggestion that the G.O.P. needs to be purified of any moderate tendencies via litmus tests that even Ronald Reagan would fail, that political orthodoxy should be the face of the G.O.P. or that Republicans can only win elections when they embrace ultra conservative ideas. The now formidable array of moderates seeking to stem any drift to the far right encompasses a spectrum of Republican notables from sitting Senators to strategists and political commentators including: Olympia Snowe, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Bob Inglis, Mickey Edwards, Christie Todd Whitman, Newt Gingrich, Tom Ridge, Colin Powell, David Frum, Andrew Sullivan, Kathleen Parker and a host of Republican strategists. Gingrich, appearing on Meet the Press (5/24/09) stated that the G.O.P. has to be “broad enough to incorporate divergent views and can’t be purged to the smallest conservative base.” Tom Ridge stated that the G.O.P. “needs to be less shrill and less condeming of those who don’t hew to a far right view.” Following the departure of Arlen Specter from the Republican Party, Olympia Snowe, in a New York Times editorial opined: “There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and contiuing to retract into a regional party. Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities.” At an April debate over the future of the G.O.P. Lindsey Graham made the following observation: “We are not losing blue states and shrinking as a party because we are not conservative enough. If we pursue a party that has no place for someone who agrees with me 70 percent of the time, that is based on an ideological purity test rather than a coalition test, then we are going to keep losing.” I could go on, but anyone who has been paying any attention to the civil war within the Republican Party knows that there are more than enough voices and intelligent arguments being made to more than call into question the logic and wisdom of people like Bill Kristol and their fanciful notions that the redemption of the G.O.P. lies in the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or the rank and file Tea Party participant. All one has to do is examine the results of the 2009 off-year elections and what is evident is that where Republicans won elections, in the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, they did so by running moderate campaigns that played to the centrist voter. In contrast, the great and financially costly effort by the far right in trying to influence the congressional election in New York’s 23rd Electoral District resulted in a conservative failure with a Democrat capturing a seat held by the G.O.P. since as far back as the Civil War.

Over the course of his career, William Kristol is a man who has backed more political losers and also-rans than winners and it would be nothing less than disastrous for the Republican Party to heed his advice or put any stock in his predictions. Kristol worked for former Secretary of Education William Bennet, the voice of personal responsibility during the Reagan Administration, who subsequently lost much of his credibility when he admitted to losing over a million dollars in Las Vegas slot machines. He was Vice President Qualye’s Chief of Staff. Kristol managed the failed Senatorial campaign of Alan Keyes in 1988 and Keyes would go on to fail twice more in seeking a seat in the Senate and then two more times when running for president. Kristol championed the pardon of Scooter Libby and the nomination of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate, a decision that McCain’s staffers would later admit to be his single biggest mistake. But it is in an examination of Kristol’s unabashed cheerleading for the War in Iraq that his predictive abilities are revealed to be so totally lacking. It was Kristol who predicted that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power would unleash a chain reaction of democratic reform across the Middle East that to date has failed to materialize.

Bill Kristol represents that desperate sort of conservative that can’t abide the dynamics of political change wrought by the election of Barack Obama. Likewise, the relatively rapid decline in the influence of Neoconservatives since the 2004 election can’t bring him much joy either. To my mind, Bill Kristol falls into that category within the Conservative Movement that is firmly wedded to the notion that their orthodox ideology is the only one acceptable for America and that anything else is either politically irrelevant or treasonous. Kristol’s faulty logic gives rise to the notion that he is engaged more in wishful thinking than objective political analysis. His prediction as to future direction of the G.O.P. amounts to nothing more than a political “Hail Mary pass” in hoping beyond hope, that somehow or other the Republican Party can be moved to embrace the orthodoxy of the far right. In my opinion, having watched him over the past decade and read his articles, he seems to be increasingly assuming the role of a shill for ultra conservative ideas, becoming as a result less objective in his political analysis. Republicans would be well advised to part company with Mr. Kristol, least they find themselves facing a future of continued electoral defeat and a decline in the party’s appeal among that now indispensable factor in American politics, the unaligned independent voter.

Steven J. Gulitti
New York City
12/17/2009

Discerning the Meaning of the 2009 Elections

9:06 pm in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

It will be weeks, if not months, before the analysis of 2009’s off year election results fade from the forefront of political commentary, particularly among conservatives. While the White House spin machine is content with downplaying the results as purely a function of local issues, conservatives have attempted to paint these contests as a referendum on the Obama Administration, or more bizarrely, the next step in “the American people taking back their country”. Most seasoned political observers know that off year, special and mid-term elections are characterized by low voter turnout and that party activists play a much greater role in determining the outcome. Viewed through that prism, the 2009 contests fall neatly into the paradigm of typical off year elections. Thus, the primary question is this: If the 2009 elections exhibit all of the characteristics of other off year elections, how can they logically be seen as a referendum on the Obama presidency or the opening volley in some great populist uprising. After all, if the American people are so disgusted with the Obama Administration, would they not be propelled to action by the rising chorus of conservative opposition and thereby get out to affect a change of course via the ballot box?

Analyzing the Gubernatorial races first, it is impossible to deny that local issues dominated. Democratic strategist Steve McMahon pointed out that property taxes and the cost of insurance rates, both of which are state level issues, are a big part of why Jon Corzine was not re-elected. While not directly involved, scandals played a role in Corzine’s demise as well, culminating in last summer’s round up of a cast of characters from politicians to rabbis. Corzine’s affiliation with the investment firm Goldman Sachs and his aloof political style did nothing to endear him to the people of New Jersey. As one NPR reporter put it: “Corzine never mastered the art of retail politics.” Political columnist A.P. Stoddard pointed on November the 3rd that if Corzine lost it would not be Barack Obama’s fault as in New Jersey; Obama had an approval rating in the vicinity of sixty percent in contrast to Corzine’s thirty nine percent. In the end, Corzine wound up losing by four percentage points to Chris Christie.

In Virginia, the issues that Republican Bob McDonnell focused on were improving the state’s economy, job creation and solving longstanding statewide transportation problems. Of these, only job creation could conceivably be linked back to the Obama Administration. While many voters are skeptical as to just how many jobs the Administration’s stimulus has created, most people still believe that Obama inherited a difficult situation, the blame for which cannot be laid at the door of his White House. In contrast to McDonnell, the Democratic challenger, Creigh Deeds was a relative unknown who struggled with name recognition till the very end.

What is notable about both races is that the Republican winners eschewed the currently fashionable conservative think tank groupthink that prescribes a political philosophy that hews to the hard right. As you will recall, following the defeat in the 2008 election cycle, most of the outspoken conservative commentators and theorists claimed that when the G.O.P. moved to the center it lost elections and that future electoral victory could only come by moving further to the right, the further, the better. Neither of the winners in New Jersey or Virginia dwelled on aspects of the “Culture Wars” nor did they resort to the now hackneyed rant about “a slide toward European Socialism.” Moreover, both Christie and McDonnell ran upbeat, politically moderate campaigns, devoid of the shrill histrionics that have come to dominate rightwing talk radio or the “political commentators” currently practicing their craft on Fox News. In contrast both Corzine and Deeds ran very negative campaigns to which the voting public now turns an increasingly deaf ear.

The other big issue is voter turnout. Political writer Paul Loeb summarizes the voter turnout as follows: “In exit polls, Virginia voters under 30 dropped from 21% of the 2008 electorate to 10% this year, and from 17% to 9% in New Jersey. Minority voting saw a similar decline. In both states, over half the Obama voters of a year ago simply stayed home, more than a million people in both Virginia and New Jersey. With this collapse of the Democratic base, even relatively modest Republican turnout could carry the day, and did.” That said, if this off year election is characterized by such low turn out levels, how can conservatives make an agrument that the “backlash is here”. Were the races in New Jersey and Virginia truly a referendum on Obama? If exit polls are any indication, they apparently were not. Edison Research provided a view as to whether or not Obama was a factor in people’s decision to vote by way of these exit poll results:

New Jersey:

Support for Obama – 19%
Oppose Obama – 20%
Obama not a factor – 60%

Virginia:

Support for Obama – 18%
Oppose Obama – 24%
Obama not a factor – 55%

Thus in both races over 70% of those who answered exit polls said that Barack Obama did not play a role in their getting out to vote in what were essentially local elections. So much for the idea that the results of this past election constitute a rejection of Barack Obama, whose approval ratings have only moved up since the August Town Hall Follies. Meanwhile, the G.O.P. is polling its lowest approval rating since polling began and only twenty percent of Americans identify with the Republican Party.

Lets now turn to New York’s 23rd Election District, where a Republican has held the Congressional seat since 1871. It is in the 23rd, a district that has all of the demographics that favor the Republican Party, that the newly energized national Conservative movement chose to show just how effective it can be in both defeating a Democrat, upending a moderate Republican and turning the tide on Barack Obama. Prior to the election the district was besieged with conservatives from all over the country including volunteers from prominent conservative grass roots organizations like, The National Organization for Marriage, FreedomWorks, of Tea Party fame, and the Club For Growth, which spent one million dollars backing the conservative candidate Doug Hoffman. Such conservative luminaries like Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Dick Armey, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, who predicted a conservative victory, tried in vain to nationalize the election. The cause of Mr. Hoffman was championed by both the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and by the NeoConservative organ, the Weekly Standard. In the face of this unprecedented conservative effort, Bill Owens won by endorsing the Obama Agenda, in an economically depressed region where unemployment has been north of ten percent for some time. This is the second time since the election of Barack Obama, that a Democrat endorsing Obama’s agenda has beaten a Republican with national conservative support in a district that demographically favored the G.O.P. The other instance is the special election for Kirsten Gillibrand’s vacated Congressional seat earlier this year.

What the outcome of the election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District shows is that beyond the world of right wing talk shows, the blogosphere, tea parties and grass roots activism, the appeal of the radical right may be much more limited than had been previously assumed. Could it be that the August Town Hall Follies with their tenor of rejection, vitriol and political dramatics have convinced few that conservatives have anything meaningful to offer an electorate that is essentially moderate, but that has been trending to the left over the previous two election cycles? It certainly leaves one to wonder just how effective Sarah Palin can be as a national political figure, seeing as she has yet to have any significant outcome on any race in which she has been involved. After all, isn’t she the darling of the base, the one individual that can really turn out a crowd?

Don’t get me wrong; there is a wake up call for the Democrats in the results of the 2009 elections and in 2010 there is no guarantee that they won’t lose more seats, the incumbent party usually does. If it happened to Ronald Reagan, it can certainly happen to Barack Obama. Obama has clearly lost support among independents and people are rightly concerned about the upward growth in federal spending. At the same time, Americans know that this is no ordinary time and that the situation we currently find ourselves in is not the work of the Obama Administration. But those jumping to the conclusion that 2009 is all that meaningful should heed the words of Purdue University Professor of Political Science, Bert Rockman: “I see no particular harbingers for 2010. While people are deeply unhappy about current conditions, they are also keenly suspicious of Republicans.” But the bigger takeaway from all of this is that as far as 2009 is concerned, rumors of Barack Obama’s demise have been greatly exaggerated and based on the above such claims can not be validated. Moreover the great citizens revolt to “take back their country” seems only to be alive and well in the delusional fantasyland of tea parties and birthers.

Steven J. Gulitti
New York City
11/6/2009