Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Big Difference

I've come to a realization recently. I think my recent reading of post WWII presidential politics helped me to better understand the political landscape of today's two party system. The realization is something like this: today's Republicans care more about getting their way than they do about effectively governing and today's Democrats care more about effectively governing than they do about shoving their agenda down the opposition's throat. Now before I'm burned in effigy for my blatant partisanship, let me give a bit of background.

During the Roosevelt Administration (Franklin, that is) the main difference between Republicans and Democrats on foreign policy was that Democrats were more interventionists and Republicans were isolationist in nature. This only extended over the course of the Korean War, Vietnam, etc. The rift over domestic policy had a lot to do with Civil Rights, labor vs. business, farm support, social programs, etc. Republicans were mostly hands off here as well advocating less government intervention and free market capitalism rather than New Deal programs. Of course there were exceptions, and perhaps here is where the trend really began. McCarthy. When Republicans were screaming for government to get out of the economy, their wallets and other people's countries, one turned the whole philosophy on its head because it suited his interests. How could a young Senator from Wisconsin become so powerful? Create a spectre and then go on a witch-hunt. Suddenly the government needed to be everywhere because the government couldn't be trusted. It sounds paradoxical, but it was essentially the truth. Communists were out there and we needed government control to get them out of government. This may sound ridiculous (and it was) but the thing for Republican McCarthy was that government power was fine as long as he held the power. That seems to be the case today as well.

Now that I've given some background, let's look at some modern examples of this phenomenon. With the emergence of a real 20th Century Republican in Ron Paul, the stark change in the party can be clearly seen. What was once hands off has become mangled by a gigantic increase in government. Not only has the executive branch overstepped its authority, but the Republican controlled congress was more than happy to go along with it. Somewhere along the line Republicans forgot that they advocated laissez faire politics and started involving government everywhere.

Now this change in ideology is striking, but it is not the theme of this piece. When he was asked why the newly elected Democratic Congress had not begun to impeach President Bush, Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden gave a brilliant response. He basically said that if they succeeded they would be left with Cheney who is even worse, and even if they attempted to remove both from office, it would use up so much time, energy and political capital that the country would be even worse off than if they just let Bush stay in office until the end of his term. Not only is that very true, but it gets at something that underlies the whole basis for modern Republicanism: our way or the highway. Senator Mitch McConnell, minority leader in the 110th Congress has been called a major obstructionist, leading a massive number of filibusters to block Democratic legislation. People are fed up with the lack of progress in Congress and so they blame those who are in charge. While that is certainly an option, the rules of the Senate make things much more difficult. While Democrats do have a (very very slight) majority, to get anything done in the Senate, you need 60 votes. While some Republicans would undoubtedly vote with the majority some of the time, McConnell has obstructed legislation so many times that now it might come back to bight him. He's up for reelection this year and may face the same rejection by voters as Tom Daschle did years ago.

The point is that today's Democrats seem to have a need to look good in the public eye. They are poised to enter into a period of great abundance with the election of Barack Obama and perhaps even 60 Senators, but they still don't want to upset people. Democrats still see themselves as the Representatives of their constituents while Republicans see it as their goal to fire up their constituents with their political ideology. Everyone knows that Bush is a sub-standard president and many people believe that he is endangering the country with his political beliefs, but Democrats aren't going to strong-arm the country into taking him out of office. Why? It's easier just to pretend he's not there and wait your turn.

Now this may be laudable, but what if Democrats took a page from the Republican playbook? What if they found an issue (like gay marriage in 2004, off shore drilling in 2008 or abortion...well every year) and hammered away at their opponents year after year, so that even when people no longer cared, they still felt like it was their obligation to support that issue? It may seem deceptive to continue to push for a single issue while the rest of the country is worried about other things, but that hasn't stopped Republicans. I wish someone would do an overarching study of the American populace and ask, "Would you ever support a politician who was pro-choice?" I think the number that answered "No" would be a lot higher than most people would like to believe. Everyone asks why this election (2008) is so close when it is so clearly a Democratic year? I think the same answer applies to the question why are there so many more Republican landslide electoral college elections? Why can no Democrat win in Utah? There are simply too many one issue voters. Even if the economy tanked, McCain had a stroke and Sarah Palin admitted to being an alien, Barack Obama would not win in Oklahoma, Idaho, Mississippi, Alabama or Utah. Why? Because Republicans care more about getting their way than they do about effective governance.

Need another example? Bill Clinton. Yes people were perfectly right in voicing their disapproval with his actions. They were within their rights to censure him for perjury. Was it best for the country to try and remove a sitting President from office for a blow job? No, but Republicans grabbed their issue and ran with it. It isn't as if Democrats haven't had their opportunities. Put aside lying about the Iraq War, misleading the public, revoking Habeas Corpus, illegally spying on Americans and firing Justice department officials for political purposes, Democrats could still have made a fuss over voter suppression in Ohio in 2004 or even the stolen election of 2000. Instead? Al Gore concedes, John Kerry concedes. Perhaps they thought that it wasn't worth the effort to fight tooth and nail for their victory, but looking back on it, it wasn't just their victory, it would have been all of our victory.

So that is my rant for the day. We will see if Democrats take advantage of this coming term when the roadblocks will be substantially less severe. If they don't make some progress fast, I'm not going to be amused.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Stop Copying Me!

I usually tend to shy away from “Breaking News” in this blog, tending instead to let thoughts percolate for a long time so as to fully grapple with the issue. Today I have to amend that to answer a pressing question from last week’s Presidential Debate. The constant refrain from Senator McCain during the first debate was “Senator Obama doesn’t understand…” and I can see why he would want to belabor that point seeing as though he thinks he has the upper hand on “experience”. Sadly it feels like I’m listening to a broken record.

The same repetition happened again last night, but it wasn’t the same refrain. Instead whenever Obama answered a question first, McCain would repeat the basic premise of Obama’s answer or at least use key phrases that Barack had used mere moments earlier. Why? Just because the audience liked Obama’s answers, you can’t just copy them and pretend like they’re your own!

This seems like a constant campaign strategy for McCain. “Whatever Hillary said, we’re going to say.” “Whatever Barack’s message is, we’re going to copy it.” “Whatever works, we’re going to pretend we came up with it.” Seriously, the first example is understandable. Who wouldn’t use an opponent’s opponent to justify your own criticisms? What baffles me is that it didn’t stop by pandering to Hillary supporters. Suddenly McCain seems to have understood that Hillary lost because her message didn’t resonate with the voters as much as Obama’s message of Change. Then almost overnight McCain became the “change” candidate simply because it was popular. He began talking about his ability to “shake up” Washington and the fact that he would “stop the special interests,” almost verbatim of Obama’s themes.

Last night there was one particular example of this phenomenon. When Obama began talking about fighting lobbyists, McCain stood up and used almost the exact same phrase to describe how he was about to “fight lobbyists” until Barack mentioned that the person who is running McCain’s campaign is in fact a lobbyist.

It seems as though everything Obama says, McCain repeats like a small child playing that irritating game, “Stop Copying Me!”

It appears to be a theme throughout the campaign. First he copied the message of change, then as soon as the campaign became ugly and many commentators (Karl Rove included) began to say that McCain was waging unfair attacks against Obama, Cindy McCain comes on the news and starts saying that Obama is waging the dirtiest campaign in history. Excuse me? I am the first one to admit that Obama has weaknesses, but you can’t just start criticizing your opponent for the same reasons everyone else is criticizing you!

Then during the economic crisis a steady stream of articles came out saying that while McCain was looking desperate and reactionary, Obama was looking steady and in control. Suddenly McCain makes this push about how he has a “steady hand at the till”. Does he just make this stuff up? I can’t believe that people would buy these arguments just because he starts making them.

You know, looking back, maybe it’s not so much irritating repetition as blatant hypocrisy. I always held disdain for politicians who would expect the populace to buy their stump speeches without making a coherent argument and McCain is no different in that regard.