Monday, July 6, 2009

The GOP's going to need a bigger boat...

Because Newt is going to sink them. This strikes me as dubious:
The Gingrich comeback strategy "includes building a center-right majority in Congress and the state legislatures -- regardless of party identification -- even if that means the heretical idea of Republicans actively promoting and backing conservative Democratic candidates in selected races where a GOP candidate would have little chance of winning."

Said the former House Speaker: "I would urge conservatives in California to find a Democrat to run in every Assembly and Senate seat in California that can't be contested by Republicans, and then to run a Republican in every seat they could possibly win, and then have an overt goal of creating a bipartisan conservative coalition. I'd do the same thing nationally."
I'll admit that there is an actual actionable idea here--which is more than can be said for most of Newt's schemes. But I think this is entirely backward, and it is solipsistic in the extreme. The reason why Democrats win in heavily Democratic areas isn't because people in these areas are in love with the Democratic Party, it's because these people are liberal. Running a conservative Democrat against Pete Stark isn't going to make much difference in the grand scheme of things. I guess I don't completely understand Newt's assumptions, but I doubt he does either, so away we go.

This seems to be just as much wishful thinking and delusion as the Democrats' recent strategy has been realistic and clear-headed. Democrats ran socially and sometimes even economically conservative Democrats in districts where anyone further to the left than Ben Nelson couldn't win. As much as Dems loathe Ben Nelson, when the alternative is another Mike Johanns it's easy to see that things could be much worse. In all fairness, Ben Nelson should find himself in the conservative coalition, as should his ilk, but such is life. Nelson's too sane and too actually conservative to fit into the Republican caucus at this point in time. (And, of course, Nelson has been around much longer than a few years, but I'm just using him as an example of a Democrat who fits his conservative state reasonably well--I could easily have said Bobby Bright (D-AL) instead, who was just elected last year and is highly conservative.) But I think this strategy has been good in general--it's helped the Democrats to find new voters in the Rust Belt by conceding some issues, like guns, and deemphasizing other cultural issues in favor of a popular, economically-centered message.

The GOP counterpoint to this strategy would be--assuming that they intend also to make economic issues the centerpiece of their agenda--to recruit candidates who are socially liberal and perhaps more realist on foreign policy, while being essentially libertarian on economic issues. Employing this strategy could reap the GOP some benefits--there are some states like Maine and New Hampshire that would seem like the natural targets of this message, as well as much of the territory they've lost in the Southwest, which is much more libertarian than liberal. This strategy wouldn't be without risk, and I suspect that it would only help Democrats cement the Midwest in the immediate future. But it could work. Actually, there's a name for this sort of activity--it's called fucking politics and it's not exactly new. The GOP seems to labor under the illusion that not only must issue positions never change, but their relative emphases must never change. As we've seen, this has not exactly been rewarding for them.

But Newt's idea here is simply silly. It's unclear to me what effect Republican support of a more conservative Democrat in a more liberal Democratic area would help, as they are intentionally not involved in the process of selecting nominees (aside from the case of open primaries, I suppose, though registered Republicans cannot vote in Democratic primaries in California, his example). It's unclear to me how trying to turn presumably the most liberal voters into conservatives is a good strategy. The liberal equivalent would have been for Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean to try to promote liberal Republicans in the Deep South in 2006, something that would have dispirited the local Democratic infrastructure, wouldn't have worked and would have baffled the political mainstream. The notion that Newt Gingrich's opinions--or those of Republican leaders in general--would hold any sway among staunch Democrats is weird enough, but I think this says more about the state of Republicanism than it does about anything else--Newt seems to be operating under the notion that Democrats in deep blue areas only care about the Democratic Party qua Democratic Party and not about progressive principles. I realize that the Republican Party has become even more partisan than they were just a few years ago--no mean feat, by the way--but Newt seems to think that liberals are essentially yokels who will vote for anyone with a D beside his (or her) name. This strikes me as wildly unlikely. I suspect that the Bay Area would go third party if the Democratic Party started looking like Ben Nelson, and this is indeed what seemed to happen in 2000, when the DLC-oriented Democratic Party was deemed too moderate by many left-wing activists and Ralph Nader won ~3% of the vote. Admittedly, this was before Al Gore became a left-wing hero for his Bush-era statements on Iraq and his work on global warming. But even the perception that the Democrats were too close to the right (one which turned out to be largely untrue, and which took the wind out of Nader's sails after 2000) led to an historically large defection from the left. Even then Gore was well to the left of the Nelsons of the party. Imagine what would happen if Nelson were to become the bellweather of the Democratic Party. The Democrats would be finished, plain and simple. There's also the example of prominent bloggers on the left critiquing President Obama for his perceived inaction on most every issue, something that did not really happen with President Bush, even though Bush did things that were rather more heterodox than Obama has done (Medicare Part D comes to mind). Simply put, the GOP on a grassroots and elite level is more hierarchical, deferential and partisan than the Democrats. And that's truer now than it ever was.

But, then again, we all know that Gingrich is a pseudointellectual conman whose greatest accomplishment was to win an election that the Republicans were almost certain to win, and to introduce a series of policies--the Contract With America--that were irrelevant, mostly unimplemented, and are now largely forgotten and unmourned. His "plan" really is Newt in a nutshell--all wishful thinking that doesn't make any sense upon further inspection, but it's "bold" and unique and therefore deserving of reams of discussion and digital ink. Of course, Republicans could work on a better strategy for gaining congressional seats in 2010, but developing a good electoral strategy would involve pesky little things like "gauging voters' concerns" and "formulating good policy" and "selecting priorities" and not just going onto cable chat shows where the hosts gush about what a man of ideas you are. And that's really all that Newt can do at this point.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.