Archive: January, 2009
By electing Michael Steele as its new national chairman late this afternoon, the Republican party did well for itself. Steele is an African-American from blue-state Maryland who has worked with moderates, assailed the GOP's recent failures, and stressed the party's need to reach out beyond its conservative base. He'll raise the morale of those Republicans who have been yearning for a sharp break with the past, although it remains to be seen whether he is fully embraced by the party's vocal religious-right constituency (among other things, Steele has opposed writing a gay marriage ban into the U.S. Constitution).
Steele, who plays well on TV (although now, presumably, he'll need to give up his gig as a Fox News contributor), will face daunting challenges; for starters, he has to bring the party up to speed on technology, and demonstrate that he can raise serious money for the key '09 races (gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia) and the 2010 congressional races. But, for now at least, his ascendence signals that the party isn't wedded to the status quo.
The week concludes with a dose of drama in the Republican party. But it can hardly be called a festive occasion, given the bleak mood of the party regulars. Just the other day, conservative strategist and Reagan biographer Craig Shirley said that the GOP "is in serious danger of slipping into oblivion."
And yesterday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who last November was forced to weather a long election night in Kentucky before he eking out his win, confessed to members of the Republican National Committee that the GOP has lost huge chunks of the electorate on its way into the wilderness: "We’re all concerned about the fact that the very wealthy and the very poor, the most and least educated, and a majority of minority voters, seem to have more or less stopped paying attention to us. And we should be concerned that, as a result of all this, the Republican Party seems to be slipping into a position of being more of a regional party than a national one. In politics there's a name for a regional party, it's called a minority party."
With apologies to the artist formerly known as Prince, it appears that the Republicans want to party like it's 1993.
That was Bill Clinton's first year in the White House. When he pushed an ambitious deficit-reduction bill, designed to erase all the red ink left on the federal ledger by Ronald Reagan and the senior George Bush, the U.S. House of Representatives managed to get it passed - without a single vote from the minority Republicans.
Flash forward to 2009, and last night's vote on the massive Obama-backed stimulus bill that is designed to at least mitigate the economic downward spiral and hopefully put down the markers for a recovery. The U.S. House of Representatives managed to get it passed - without a single vote from the minority Republicans. The new president extended his hand to the opposition members, essentially telling them "Yes you can," to which they essentially responded with their new battle cry, "Now we won't."
So I opened The New York Times on Monday morning, turning quickly to the op-ed page in order to get my weekly Bill Kristol fix, and, as always, the neoconservative propagandist served up some hilarity. At one point, Kristol suggested that the new president's "unabashedly pro-American" inaugural speech was proof that Obama had been influenced by Ronald Reagan and "modern conservatism." I was grateful to Kristol for enlightening me, because I had somehow mistakenly assumed that Democrats and liberals were capable of being "pro-American" without Reagan's help. And as for those one million people out there on the Mall, blacks and whites waving their little American flags, apparently they didn't realize either that they owed their love of country to the conservative cause.
But Kristol's predictable insinuations barely qualify as a misdemeanor. At least this time he got through his column without any apparent factual inaccuracy; he had been notorious for his errors during 2008. And yet, in the end, his Monday column did deliver a clear jolt. At the very bottom, in an italicized one-liner, The Times tersely informed us:
There are all sorts of disturbing things in this world - such as Rod Blagojevich comparing his impeachment to Pearl Harbor, and doomed Wall Street titan John Thain spending $1.2 million to redecorate his Merrill Lynch office - but, for the moment, I'm particularly creeped out by a development in the never-ending California gay marriage imbroglio.
It has been nearly three months since 52 percent of the state's voters approved Proposition 8, the ballot measure banning gay marriage. Gay activists remain extremely ticked off, particularly because so many donors (and the Mormon church)came to the aid of the marriage banners. But instead of productively channeling their energies - by perhaps analyzing what went wrong; perhaps by tweaking the pro-marriage message so that it's more persuasive - some activists have apparently decided that it would be preferable to create a climate of fear.
This post is a retooled and expanded version of my Sunday print column. With research and brainstorming assistance from UPenn student/political writer Emily Schultheis.
One of these days I expect to visit the cereal aisle of my local supermarket and discover Barack Obama’s saintly smile on a Wheaties box.
Elections do matter. Voting does make a difference. Case in point:
When George W. Bush was in office, secrecy trumped sunlight. Today, with Barack Obama in office, sunlight trumps secrecy.
On his first working day as president, Obama erased a key element of Bush’s secrecy ethos with a stroke of a pen. His action on Wednesday didn’t get much public attention; the issue at hand wasn’t nearly as sexy a subject as the return of American Idol. Nor did his action get much press attention, since it was soon overshadowed by a more visceral story, the Obama executive order decreeing the closing of Guantanamo. Nor will his action get much attention today, since everybody seems far more interested in whether Caroline Kennedy scrapped her Senate bid because of tax problems or illegal nanny problems or maybe because she realized she just had nothing to say, beyond “you know.”
These are tough times for the loyal opposition. After long years of mismanagement, the Republicans have been banished to the sidelines - they are currently outnumbered on Capitol Hill by a margin of 315 to 219 (excluding Al Franken) - and so naturally they're stuck with trying to figure out how to behave. At a time when the president enjoys a level support that is unprecedented for a newcomer, when should the GOP cooperate with the Democratic majority (and thus please the citizen majority), and when should it resist? How should the GOP choose its battles?
This will be an ongoing dilemma; in fact, it's clear that these wilderness wanderers have already lost their compass. Consider what happened yesterday, for instance. The Republicans know that they have to stand up for something, so what did a few senators choose to do?