As anyone who looks at politics all the time will tell you, the Republican presidential primary is a brutal thing. It is a contest of who can slap their chest the hardest, rail against those evil liberals and stoke fear of the other and change in the hearts of all those red blooded Republican voters. Which is just fine, for their party, you should do what it takes to actually win the votes of your base, even if they are bat-shit crazy.
The problem, for Republicans that actually want to win the White House is that the things which excite their base are things that are not very popular with voters at large in the nation. It might excite the Teahadists and other Conservatives in the Republican Party to hear Ron Paul declaim “I think we should vote for the right to drink raw milk!” at a debate and get a round of cheering, it is quite another to have anyone support that as a platform plank to run on in the general election.
Establishment Republicans get understand this, which is why we are see things like Michael Gerson’s column in today’s Washington Post. He is already tying to put a corral around the wild horses of conservatism that are off and running in the nominating race.
Gerson knows that to have any chance of winning the White House who ever the Republican nominee is will have to be able to disavow some of the silly season things that will be required to win the nomination, so he is giving them pre-emptive cover.
This being little Mikey Gerson, he of course, has to take a few swipes at the Democrats before he can get down to the serious business of making space for the eventual nominee to back off the edge of the crazy cliff. He says:
Every candidate in the current field accepts the goal of reversing the Obama era. In 2008, the federal government spent $3 trillion; in 2011, it will spend $3.8 trillion. Federal spending has jumped from 20.7 percent of gross domestic product to 25.3 percent. Federal debt held by the public is twice what it was in 2008. This path is unsustainable.
I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to pick apart how many things are wrong or missing the needed context in that small paragraph (hint, the number of misstatements is higher than four).
What makes this column actually interesting instead of a normal bashing of Democratic politics is that he takes on some of the sacred cows of the Conservative movement and basically tells the presidential hopefuls that everyone knows they are full of crap on things like ending EPA or food regulation. It is too bad he does it with flat lies of his own.
The ideological certainties of the conservative movement often contrast with the conduct of conservative politicians. Activists may regard the New Deal as soft socialism, but conservative politicians do not seek the end of Social Security or unemployment insurance. Conservative talk show hosts may call the progressive movement of the late 19th century a “cancer in America,” but most presidential hopefuls do not oppose antitrust legislation, the direct election of senators or the inspection of meat-packing plants.
I don’t think that Mr. Gerson and I live in the same reality. I do see Republicans wanting to end anti-trust legislation, they just don’t want to do it in a way that is overt and can be laid at their feet. After all these are the same folks that lead banking deregulation and would love nothing more than to end Sarbanes-Oxley.
As for Social Security, I would say that ending it is the same as privatizing it. Just like pushing Medicare into a voucher system is ending Medicare as we know it. But, of course, that is not the point for this column by Gerson, he is just trying to muddy the water enough that there will be confusion as to what a conservative Republican candidate really wants and what the voter thinks they want.
This is an important job for a shill like Gerson, this cycle more so than most. After a slew of Republican governors ran on a modestly moderate message and then have gone hog-wild to the Right, the country has to be soothed that surely none of the yahoo’s who are running for president from that side will turn out like the governors of Michigan, Wisconsin or Florida.
Gerson spends most of the column kneecapping Rep. Ron Paul. This is much like shooting fish in a barrel. Rep. Paul has a frankly whacky point of view of government and of history. As Gerson reminds us he thinks that President Lincoln started the Civil War to strengthen the central government and put a stake in the old idea of Republic.
Still the purpose of this article is clear and I am willing to be a batch of homemade doughnuts that it will not be the last time that we see this kind of post trying to smooth the edges off of the policy nut-baggery that comes from the Republican nominating process. And I am willing to bet that he will not be alone.
After all, at a time when it looks like the front runners are Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann there is going to be a huge passel of crazy coming down the pike over the next year until the Republicans have a nominee. If the way they have to talk to the Teahadist base is too scary then they can’t win, and for people like Gerson that is a real problem.
Mikey ends his column with the following line:
It is neither necessary nor healthy for conservatives to reject Lincoln or Louis Pasteur.
I guess my question is, why not? After all they have abandoned Teddy Roosevelt, Stephen Hawking, Ben Franklin, Dwight Eisenhower, Galileo and actual policies of Ronald Regan, so why should Pasteur and Lincoln be any different?
What we need to do as Democrats, Liberals and Progressives is to make sure that we don’t let the smoke and mirrors of people like little Mikey Gerson get in place without challenge and without refutation.
The floor is yours.