alien & sedition.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
  Rudy Dances with the Fundamentalists

Rudy's trying to make nice with the Christian right rebels. The LA Times reports that Giuliani has accepted an invitation to attend, along with the rest of the Republican field, the "values voter summit" sponsored by Tony Perkins's Focus on the Family in Washington on October 20. Perkins, of course, is one of the "secretive" Council for National Policy illuminati who has been talking up the idea of a Christian right third-party campaign should Giuliani win the GOP nomination.

While, as Matt Ortega has reported, a recent poll indicated that such a campaign could pull away more than a quarter of the Republican vote -- and as much as I'd like to see that happen -- let me continue to be the guy who cautions you about reading too much into this. For one thing, as Rasmussen points out in its analysis:
The latest poll highlights the potential challenges for Giuliani, but the numbers must be considered in context. A generic third-party candidate may attract 14% of the vote in the abstract at this time. However, if a specific candidate is chosen, that person would likely attract less support due to a variety of factors. Almost all third party candidates poll higher earlier in a campaign and their numbers diminish as election day approaches. Ultimately, of course, some Republicans would have to face the question of whether to vote for Giuliani or help elect a Democrat.

Of course, even despite such considerations an anti-abortion third-party candidate could do well enough to throw a close election to the Democrats. But the calculations will weigh on the movement leaders themselves. If they really believe they can draw 14% of the electorate, they may go forward with it. But they can't afford to look weaker than they already do. This would be a desperate move by a coterie of Christian right leaders who can't be eager to test exactly how far their influence has eroded. A break with fusionism and the conservative coalition is no small matter for these people.

The calculation will have to include saving face, since face may be all they have. As the LA Times post notes, Giuliani has continued to defy laws of political gravity that the fundamentalists thought they wrote. One gets the sense that this rebellion is aimed as much at their own straying flock as at Rudy himself: remember who your real leaders are. The problem, further illustrated by this weekend's New York Times article on religious conservative voters, is that the Council crowd may include the most famous figures in evangelical circles, but they don't necessarily dictate the political views and actions evangelicals take. The article uses the example of James Dobson's attempt to take down Fred Thompson, which achieved nothing but sparking an embarassing backlash.

That's why Giuliani's strategy seems to be aimed at offering the rebel leaders a way to save face. He'll never be what they want him to be, but he can court them just enough to flatter their need to believe in their own continuing relevance; he can play along with the notion of that relevance in the hopes that they won't feel the need to try and prove it with a breakaway campaign. That may be just enough to stop them from pulling the trigger, given how much they know they have to lose if they do.

It's still a delicate situation, and it could yet lead to a confrontation that I think neither side really wants. But we're not there yet.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
  Rudy, the GOP, and Spending: The Binge-and-Purge Mentality

Cross-posted at The Right's Field.

The notion that the GOP lost in 2006 because of spending is absurd. It's not just absurd; it's verging on insane. While it may be true that ridiculous earmarks like Don Young's "bridge to nowhere" helped contribute to the general air of corruption surrounding the Republican party, spending per se had nothing to do with the GOP's midterm defeat.

But, for reasons I'll get to in a minute, Republicans themselves like very much to tell themselves that the defeat had everything to do with spending. And Rudy Giuliani is indulging them. He may actually believe what he's saying -- when it comes to economics, Giuliani believes in a lot of very silly things, like the notion that cutting taxes always leads to an increase in tax revenue. Or he may simply be saying it to curry favor with the Club for Growth crowd (if so, it's working). In either case, Rudy insists that he's the only one who can restore the GOP's mythical fiscal discipline. Again, this assertion is logically incompatible with his embrace of supply-side ideas. But neither is it supported by his record as mayor of NYC.

While Giuliani likes to take credit for "23 tax cuts" during his time at City Hall, has documented that the truth is quite different:
A new radio ad boasts that Rudy Giuliani "cut or eliminated 23 taxes" while mayor of New York City, a boast he and his supporters have repeated many times on the campaign trail. We find that to be an overstatement. Giuliani can properly claim credit for initiating only 14 of those cuts.

In fact, he strongly opposed one of the largest cuts for which he claims credit, reversing himself only after a five-month standoff with the city council. In addition, the ad's claim that Giuliani turned the budget deficit he inherited into a surplus, while true enough, ignores the fact that he also left a multibillion-dollar deficit for his successor, not including costs associated with 9/11.

As CNBC reports:
[A] closer look at the numbers show he's claiming credit for some tax cuts that weren't his idea to begin with. And others that he actively opposed.

For instance, seven tax cuts that he says were his were actually initiated by New York State. Giuliani may have supported the measures, but they were never floated by his office. That's according to the Independent Budget Office, a publicly funded watchdog group.

Then there's the granddaddy of New York tax cuts -- the ending of a 12.5% surcharge on personal income tax. Giuliani cites it as his No. 1 achievement on taxes -- and he did initially propose it, but then later dropped his support for the measure, even fighting it before finally giving in to the city council. It was the largest New York City tax cut in history.

Of course, even if we do give Giuliani credit as a tax-cutter, that has little to do with fiscal discipline, while that multibillion dollar deficit is a good indicator of his lack of it.

In an era where Republican politicians have gone over to the supply side en masse, does it even make sense to associate the GOP with "fiscal discipline" anymore? Giuliani's right about the breakdown in that reputation, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

Ultimately all this conservative self-flagellation over spending serves a particular purpose -- by a strange kind of alchemy, it transforms the GOP's well-earned reputation for corruption into a reaffirmation of conservative principle. Spending itself becomes corruption. The answer to government corruption, we're told, is to cut government spending. Personally, if there's a party that can't tell the difference between government and corruption, I don't want that party in government.

The modern Republican party has a very strange relationship to spending. It's almost like an eating disorder -- the party binges on wars, tax cuts, pork, and ill-conceived efforts to win voters away from the Democrats on issues like Medicare. Then it rhetorically purges, denouncing universal health care as "socialism" and promising to drown its own ugly governing body in the bathtub. It all seems very unhealthy to me.

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Monday, October 01, 2007
  Social Cons, Econo-Cons

Ramesh Ponnuru raises some interesting arguments, building off a debate with Thomas Edsall from May. His original point was that "The relative social conservatism of the Republican party has increased over the last twenty years, not decreased."

This comes up now in the context of a related question: can socially conservative candidates prosper even as society in general becomes steadily more liberal? Ponnuru argues that yes, they can. I'd say this point is self-evident, given the history of the post-war U.S., but let's look at a couple of his arguments.

One is particularly interesting in light of the last post.
Abortion has been the biggest of the social issues. For three decades, Gallup has asked Americans whether they think abortion should never be permitted, should always be permitted, or should sometimes be permitted. The results from 2005 do not look markedly more liberal than the results from 1975. So these polls give us no reason to think that opposition to abortion has lost political power, or is likely to do so.
If this is so, then it's all the more ironic that abortion has lost political power -- not thanks to public opinion, but thanks to the maneuvering of the economic conservatives who have been consolidating their control of the GOP coalition. Abortion was one of the political pillars of the Republican party, and now the party is abandoning it altogether? Either the issue really has lost salience, or the GOP is undertaking a curious strategy indeed. I think it's a little of both, myself, but time will tell.

At any rate, I think Ponnuru gets the larger dynamic right:
A society can simultaneously become more socially liberal and create new political opportunities for social conservatives. It is, after all, the liberalization to which the conservatives react.

Now of course public opinion on an issue can change so much that the old conservative position is no longer tenable, and successful candidates can no longer take it. If only 10 percent of the population still opposes gay marriage in 20 years, it won’t be an issue then, either. When public opinion changes that much, however, the issues get redefined. A new conservative position emerges, more liberal than the previous one but less liberal than the contemporary liberal one. And this new conservative position sometimes has a lot of political power.
This speaks to why I think that social conservatism represents a stronger electoral future for the GOP than economic conservatism. Particularly so considering that the so-called fiscal conservatism embraced by the party's current opinion makers isn't really fiscal conservatism at all, but the weird cult of supply-side economics.

Bigger picture: I think the Rudy Giuliani model represents a very bad option for the GOP. But don't tell them I said that.

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  Dobson's Choice

Cross-posted at The Right's Field.

First things first: can we please stop referring to the Council for National Policy as "secretive"? The CNP is the most publicity-seeking "secret" organization on the planet. It's made up of prima-donna religious right leaders who enjoy their public positions of political influence; if it were truly clandestine it wouldn't be alerting the national media every time it has a significant meeting.

So the CNP is considering backing a third party candidate if Rudy Giuliani wins the nomination. Again, it's no secret that the group has been casting around for candidates for some time now: back in February, for instance, it was deliberating over whether to throw its support behind a Christian conservative in the GOP primary -- Huckabee, or Brownback, or South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. Christian Right heavyweight Paul Weyrich described the Council as "split 50-50" over whether to unite behind a second-tier candidate, or to just split up according to individual dictates of conscience and calculation. The discussions ended without consensus, and the CNP's main movers have mostly sat out the primary race since then, which should tell us something about how much all this talk really means.

The problem was with the notion of backing a horse that couldn't win. And if the Council wasn't willing to support a second tier candidate in the primary, why would it be willing to take the much longer odds of organizing behind a third party candidate in the general?

There's no denying the seriousness of the dilemma facing Christian conservatives. Their influence within the GOP is fading fast; they've never been much more than cheap foot soldiers to a party run by a business lobby with little interest in social issues either way. If they allow the Republicans to nominate a pro-choice candidate, and fail to challenge the decision, they stand to lose much of what remains of their political credibility. But at the same time, they hardly seem to be spoiling for a fight. It's true that they could throw the election to the Democrats by winning only a couple of percentage points next November. But what will that win them? Do they really want proof that all they can draw is a couple points? It could make them look every bit as marginal as Ralph Nader.

This is indeed a dangerous moment for the Republican party. It seems that the party is calculating that its mass support, once built on the backs of the anti-abortion movement, can now be drawn from the legend of perpetual war. Over the long run, I suspect that's not likely to be a winning strategy. But in the very short term, understand that, for the "secretive" CNP, the decision to support a third-party candidacy will not come easily, and it very well might not come at all.

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"An obscure but fantastic blog." - Markus Kolic


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