Forging the Middle Path while taking Friendly Fire

I’ve seen several articles in Business Week recently bemoaning the loss of moderation in the Republican Party. I wonder where these folks were when hordes of evangelicals were overtaking county parties with orders written on recipe cards back in the 1980s?  I had a front row seat to the insanity.  I couldn’t get any one to listen back then.  However, now it’s a major topic in the press. The first article showed up in May. I got a pretty good laugh out of this quote by Dwight Eisenhower who was thought to be a Communist infiltrator by Daddy Koch and his John Birch Society.  They were marginalized back then and now are front and center at the leadership table.

“Their number is negligible and they are stupid,” Dwight Eisenhower once said of conservatives, according to another panelist, Geoffrey Kabaservice, the author of Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party. Alas, moderates have all but disappeared. “They might even be forced into breeding programs to keep them alive,” Kabaservice said, citing a recent Onion article. (Worth a click for the picture alone.)

The article discussed a panel that was wondering where all the moderate Republicans went.  I have a pretty good answer for that.  There’s been an ongoing purge since the 1980s.  Most of the state parties have a litmus test on several issues.  You’re made to suffer if you don’t goose step along to the evangelicals and voodoo economics true believers.  Any one not capable of lies or magical thinking is decidedly unwelcome and hounded out.

The second article of interest interviews some senators that are exiting because they can’t take the atmosphere any more. Here’s a few choice comments from retiring pro-choice Republican Olympia Snow. I used to write a lot of good sized checks to her campaigns in the 1980s.

BBW: Senator Snowe, you’ve deviated from your party more than just about anyone. What is it really like when you go against the leadership?

SNOWE: People within your party used to understand that it is essential. People have to represent either their district or their state on the issues that matter and take those positions accordingly. But today there is no reward for that. In fact, there is this party adherence, and as a result if we don’t get past the party platforms that are offered by either side of the political aisle, then we can’t solve the problem. And we are not transcending those differences. That is a huge departure from the past.

Here’s another interesting comment on the role of money and the Citizens United ruling by SCOTUS.  The other senators interviewed include Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), and Congressmen Gary Ackerman (D-New York) and Geoff Davis (R-Kentucky).

BBW: What harms the process more, the media or money?

CONRAD: Money is a huge problem. There are really two reasons I decided not to run again. One is I really wanted to come here to do big things, and we haven’t been doing big things. The second was I saw super PACs coming and I knew as a centrist who was not particularly supported very strongly by any group, I could have [a super PAC] roll in and just dump a load of money on me and I’m not going to be able to answer.

DAVIS: I don’t believe we should check speech by any measure or merit, but left unchecked, you could end up with the 21st century version of Tammany Hall, where you have a small number of political bosses who control the flow of money around the country, limiting the discourse and debate for personal advantage, whether left, right, or center.

SNOWE: I regret that the Supreme Court rolled back 100 years of case law and precedence. It was my initial provision in the McCain-Feingold bill that was struck down a second time in the court. But then obviously they went quantum leaps further, unfortunately, and unraveled all the case law, allowing corporations and unions to dump unlimited money into these campaigns.

What Kent says is true. Because we are trying to build what I describe as a sensible center, you don’t have a base in terms of raising money. You are almost always confined to the MSNBC or the Fox News prism. That’s the way I describe it because it’s true. People see you in one channel or another and nothing in between.

ACKERMAN: We are probably the only ones who watch both Fox and MSNBC. The public watches either one or the other, and they watch one or the other hoping that the guys on my side will kill the guys on the other side. You can accuse any and every one of us, at least at times, of going for the ratings and doing and saying things that are popular or to try to raise more money so that we can get reelected. The media does that in spades. They really do.

These seem to be the same topics we spend a lot of time on here.  The media has taken sides in order to attract audiences and returns to stockholders.  The more partisan hoopla they can drum up, the better it is for them.  Fox News is nothing more than a propaganda channel and MSNBC is trying to find a niche offering up an alternative. Papers are so dumb downed and watered down these days that it’s hard to find much use for them.  Corporate money and profit seeking has completely gummed up the process and it uses the anger of specific interest groups like the fetus and gun obsessed to further its power and money grab.The Tea Party is totally orchestrated, yet, its members are so angry they can’t see the strings that pull them.

Reading basic obituaries of whatever was left of commonsense in the party of Lincoln is a saddening experience.  I say this as we watch Ron Paul’s delegates play the same game on the radical right that they played 30 years ago on the Rockefeller Republicans. Can you imagine the Republican party’s soul is up for grabs by Ayn Rand groupies now?  Basically, Republicans adhere to works of fiction and drive off any attempt to ground them in reality.

Paul has stopped actively campaigning and has conceded that Romney will be the GOP nominee. It’s unclear whether Paul’s name will be submitted for nomination; mathematically, he does not have the numbers to derail Romney. But his supporters can have an effect on the party in other ways.

“We want to have a real big voice on the platform; we want to influence the direction of the party more than anything else,” said Joel Kurtinitis, a Paul supporter who was pleased after the Saturday vote.

He was Paul’s state director in Iowa until Paul suspended his presidential bid in May, and he said that although he would love to see Paul awarded a prime speaking spot at the convention, his followers’ efforts are about more than one man.

“We’re going to hold up our values and we’re going to bring conservatism back to the mainline of the Republican Party. That’s where my hopes are at and that’s my hope for this convention more than seeing Ron Paul do X, Y and Z,” Kurtinitis said.

What exactly happens to a republic built on a two party system when one of those parties becomes captured by purists? Perhaps, the Republican christofacist army is about to have its tables turned. I still have the feeling, however, that the corporate money will rule no matter what the platform says.

By working arcane rules at district, county and state gatherings around the country, his supporters have amassed an army of delegates who will try to ensure that his libertarian message about the economy, states’ rights and a noninterventionist foreign policy is loudly proclaimed.

Paul’s backers will also try to shape the party platform as they dare Republicans to take them for granted – much as social conservatives did years ago before they ascended in importance.

“We want to influence the direction of the party more than anything else,” said Joel Kurtinitis, who was Paul’s state director in Iowa until the congressman effectively ended his presidential bid in May. He said efforts by followers of Paul, a 76-year-old who will retire when his current term ends, are about more than him or his son Rand, a senator from Kentucky.

“We’re going to hold up our values and we’re going to bring conservatism back to the mainline of the Republican Party,” Kurtinitis said.

But others say the move by the Iowa GOP is a black eye for the state’s first-in-the-nation voting status and for Romney.

“Embarrassment is the word that comes to my mind,” said Jamie Johnson, who served as Santorum’s state coalitions director in Iowa. The former Pennsylvania senator, who endorsed Romney after ending his presidential bid in April, appears to have a solitary Iowa delegate heading into the convention.

There are far fewer of these insurgents than there were die-hard Hillary supporters last presidential election cycle.  Yet, they seem to be much more fanatical and organized.  Will they up end the dominance of the party by the Guns, God, and No-Gays fanatics that have ruled the party with Torquemada  like fanaticism since the Reagan years?
How do we survive this craziness? Seriously, I’ve gotten to the point where I think voting Republican is basically voting for the end of the country as we know it.  What needs to change?  I’m going to give the last word to the last word to the departing senators.

BBW: I’m going to give you one magic power. As you leave here, you can change one thing about the legislative process, about the federal government, anything you want. What would you do?

CONRAD: I would do away with super PACs. I think it’s a cancer.

DAVIS: It is critical that those who are being regulated in various constituencies—be it the business community, the job creators, or other institutions—need to be an active part of that dialogue. Great Britain revolutionized parts of their regulatory process by actually bringing the people who were going to be regulated to the table and suddenly found that they could solve the problems at a lot lower cost by, again, going back to the thing that tends to be most uninteresting, particularly in cable news, and looking at the actual process. Solve the problem or prevent the problem from happening.

SNOWE: We are not doing our jobs, frankly. If I was in charge, I would be canceling recess and getting everybody here and start focusing on the issues that matter to this country because we are at a tipping point.

Legislating isn’t easy on these complex matters. You can’t just instantaneously come up with solutions to problems. Somehow we have dumbed down the process. Somehow we think, “Oh gosh, are you for or against?” Well, geez, it just came up. Can I give it some thought? Can I think about it? Can I read about it? Maybe I should learn more about the facts on the issue. But there is no time, no deference paid to thoughtfulness in the legislative process today. We have got to get back to spending some time here to get the job done for the American people. That’s what it’s all about. The American people understand it. They see it because they see on TV on C-SPAN and they recognize, “Well, where are they?”

ACKERMAN: Inasmuch as it’s a magical power that you are bestowing I would do away with hypocrisy. [Laughter] Looking at it a little bit more realistically, we have to try to find some practical approaches. I came here so many years ago as a rather liberal kid from New York City. I’m still pretty liberal. I changed a little bit on foreign policy and worldview, but I came here as a pacifist. I disagreed with Ronald Reagan, who was the first president that I served with, but I didn’t want him to fail. This pacifist wound up voting for war under the guidance of two Republican presidents because we only have one president at a time, and if he fails, my country fails. That is not acceptable. The Congress, both houses, both parties have to act like grown-ups and say that this is about policy. If it is about the presidency or if it’s about the majority in my House or your House, then it is never going to be about policy. Somebody is going to have to—not the four of us, but somebody is going to have to walk that back a few steps.