Thursday, March 28, 2013

Republicans strut their stuff, but why?

It is interesting to me that after the Republicans are handed a decisive loss in the 2012 election, they have decided to make as much of a display of their least popular ideological dogmas as possible. 

Taxes - they went to the mat to avoid raising taxes on the wealthy and forced The Sequester.  The House of Representatives voted for Paul Ryan's harsh budget which raises no taxes on anybody, especially the super wealthy, while cutting services to the middle class and poor.  To me, by refusing to raise taxes or cut defense spending they demonstrate that they are not serious about the budget, but only serious about cutting government services.  Only the true believers are on board with this harshness.

Choice/abortion - they ban abortion in some red states as early as six weeks. This thrills evangelicals, but there are many more voters who are not evangelicals, especially young ones and women.

Gay marriage/gay equality - they are going to the mat to ban gay marriage currently in the Supreme Court, fighting to stop something increasingly accepted by young voters.  Denial of equality always seems unfair.

Gun control/second amendment - even in the wake of the Newtown slaughter of small children they refuse to limit magazine clip size and insist that rapid fire spray guns are protected by the second amendment.  The gun manufacturers masquerade as second amendment purists, but I think they repel more than they attract.

Affirmative action - they are pushing to revive the debate about affirmative action in college admissions. They never stop the attack.

Health care - they keep promising to overturn Obamacare.  I guess they think losing is proof that they have a winning hand?

All of these things excite the conservative base. But they do not attract non-believers.  They seem to be doubling down on the ideology that lost them the election with the well worn, Limbaugh and Beck type calls for more hard core conservative crusades. The faithful still seem to think they are the vanguard of a movement that is sweeping the country and the world. 

I think they have lost touch with reality.  Just as they thought they were going to win a landslide victory in 2012, they still seem to think their only problem was that they weren't conservative enough, so they double down. 

One thing that I think they are doing is deeply branding themselves with their old and worn out ideas, just when savvier party politicians see that they need to re-brand themselves with new approaches.   

The old white guys are strutting their stuff, but their rigidity, stubbornness, and delusions are what they are really showing, or so it seems to me.

My hope is that this brand of conservativism becomes seen as the past of the Republican Party and becomes more and more marginalized, while the Republican Party itself finds a new center that speaks to values of conservatism in creative and innovative ways - and a new and exciting Republican Party is born.  

The old war horses aren't going to change, but most likely just gather themselves together and charge off at every increasing speed - over the cliff into the obscurity of a past that is long gone.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Iraq, ten years later

Ten years ago we went into Iraq.  I thought it was the right thing to do.  I was convinced that World War II had taught the civilized world that the only way to deal with tyrannical bullies was to stand up to them and refuse to appease them because appeasing them only caused them to attack.  The model was Hitler and Stalin.  Al Qaeda and Hussein seemed to me to fit that threatening mold and I thought knocking them over was needed to secure a safe future for America, for Democracy, for freedom.

And a few years into the war, I stopped believing what I had believed.  I started to notice that we were creating more enemies than we were killing.  And I backed off and wondered if I was wrong.

Now I think our attacking Iraq was a very serious mistake.  One of the reasons is the main strategic outcome of our war in Iraq was to strengthen Iran.  Iraq had been a counterbalance to Iran.  Iraq's power is gone, Iran's power has grown.  So now what?  Attack Iran?  Good heavens, no.  I have seen enough young Americans lose their lives, limbs, and their normality in the Middle East.  I do not want to see more of that.

I think the biggest mistake that America made in Iraq was the terrible intelligence that said Saddam had nukes and other WMD.  He didn't.  It was a bluff.  And our intelligence got it wrong.  Big mistake.

I think the second biggest mistake was to destroy the existing institutions of power of the Baath Party and army.  There was nothing left, and the country collapsed into civil war amongst the competing tribes.

David Ignatius is one of my most trusted voices on the Middle East.  He apologized to his readers today for being wrong about whether the war made sense.  He made some key points.  

He remembered two powerful conversations that had given him pause in 2003. 

The first was a man who had told him that if America were strong enough, they would succeed and the rest of the Middle East would follow.  But, America wasn't strong enough.  The civil war broke out beyond America's control.  And Bush couldn't sell the war to the American voters.  The army went off to war, and the country was split.

The second was a man who told him: 

"I am sorry for America.  You are stuck.  You have become a country of the Middle East.  America will never change Iraq, but Iraq will change America."

Personally, I'm tired of being "a country in the Middle East."

Another point he made was that the CIA was dead set against demolishing the Baath Party and the established order.  But they lost to Rumsfield and Chalabi. And of course it was W who was the decider.  Bush, with the Texas bravado of a kind of hyper-masculinity that defines itself by its toughness.  I'm for a new kind of masculinity that defines itself by its brains and heart.

His third, and perhaps most important point, was the enormous importance of dignity in the Arab world.  People who are impoverished, dominated, and disenfranchised crave dignity most of all.  

So, what do I conclude ten years later?  

Do not put Americans in harm's way in the middle of Middle Eastern civil wars.  

Stay out of Syria.  Stay out of Iran.  Let them fight their fights, without the shedding of the blood of American young men and women.  Time for the soft powers of persuasion, diplomacy, covert assistance, intelligence, and engagements that are based upon knowledge and tact and and technology and craft and politics rather than force and destruction.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Political party based upon an idea of manliness?

The Republican Party is grappling with their identity as a result of their electoral failures in 2012.  They lost the presidential election by 4 percentage points when the president was mired in an economic slump, lost 2 net seats in the Senate during an election when many more Dems than Reps were up for re-election, and kept a majority of seats in the House of Representatives despite getting 1.4 million fewer votes for Republican House candidates (gerrymandering of districts resulted in more Republican House victories).

So, they got beaten at the polls pretty decisively.  And some are thinking that their ideas still won out.  Not a very astute idea, in my opinion.

What occurs to me is that the Movement Conservatives, in their continuing efforts to take over the Republican Party, might be best understood as people who are trying to base their party on a kind of odd definition of manliness.  To be a member of good standing in the core conservative movement is to express a deep commitment to what they think it means to be a True Man.

To be a True Republican Man apparently means:

  • Not needing any help from anyone, especially the government
  • Owning and using rapid fire weapons with huge ammunition capacities
  • Refusing to compromise on any issues for any reason
  • Keeping America safe from inferior men, i.e. gay men
  • A right to control women, especially their reproductive and sexual lives
  • A strong appetite for war
  • A fierce belief in independence to the exclusion of any sense of community responsibilities
It is not surprising that the main constituency of the Republican Party, especially of the Movement Conservatives, is older white men.  Women, gays, and minorities are not really all that welcomed by the core movement men, regardless of whatever lip service they feel obliged to give at any given time.  And, indeed, women, gays, youth, and minorities don't see much in the Movement Conservative agenda that speaks to their lives or their concerns.

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has moved into more extreme territory this year by excluding the most popular Republican in the country, Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, and Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell among other Republican governors.  Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman are not exactly messengers of flexibility and new thinking for a party in trouble.

It has been said that the Democrats are the "mommy party" and Republicans are the "daddy party", Dems more focused on nurturing and caring, Reps more focused on finances and defense.  And I think that has long been true, and a good thing to have both energies strongly voiced in our political parties.   

But, today's Republican "daddy party" seems to be on the verge of being taken over by caricatures of Clint Eastwood and superhero cartoon versions of what it is to be manly.  Not only are they not "nurturing mommy types" I'm not sure they are really very good representatives of manliness either - movie guy toughness is a poor substitute for the true complexity and authentic courage of actual men.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Dead extremists walking?

There could be a pattern emerging in politics –  a “dead extremists walking” pattern.  Apparently, when a man has been condemned in prison, he is referred to as a “dead man walking” because his future death is certain even though he is still walking around.  Perhaps much the same is happening to right wing extremists in the Republican Party now.  They continue their extremist politics but don’t realize that their time is over.  

An example may well be in South Carolina where Lindsay Graham, Republican Senator, went on the Senate floor to take issue with some things Rand Paul said during his filibuster of the CIA nominee on the grounds that he needed assurances that no president could use a drone to kill an American in America without oversight.  Perhaps that wasn’t an unreasonable position for Paul to take, but also apparently, the right wing movement extremists came forward with an explosion of support for Paul on hashtag: #StandWithRand. 

The same fervid conservative base also apparently went after Graham on hashtag: #PrimaryGraham, where they castigated Graham for not being in lock step with the extremist base, but spoke darkly of a primary overthrow of Graham be supporting Lee Bright, who apparently is one of them. 

The extremist Republican base, and perhaps Rand Paul as well, seem to live in perpetual terror that the government is about to become a totalitarian police state.  Many seem to think that day has already come in the form of the the Obama administration - I suppose they expect jack-booted thugs to pound on their doors in the dead of night demanding that they sign up for Obamacare health insurance, or allowing gay people to move into their spare bedrooms.

I guess the extremist base of the Republicans haven’t noticed that their movement has failed to capture the imagination of the country.  They are pretty successful at defeating more moderate conservatives in primary election, and also very good at losing general elections to Democrats. 

Maybe that is how the Republican Party is going to commit suicide – death by primary voters who will only nominate unelectable extremists like themselves.  There are many examples, Indiana being one of the most recent in the 2012 election, when long time center right Republican Senator Richard Lugar lost to an extremist primary victor,  Richard Mourdock , who went on to lose to the Democrat,  Joe Donnelly, by about six points , in the general election. 

That is the telling snapshot of politics today when looking at the future of the Republican Party, I believe. 

Or, perhaps, center right politicians can stage a comeback and marginalize the extremists and take the party back from them and their rigidity.  That is what I hope, at any rate. I believe the fate of the Republican Party stands in the balance.  And the country needs to have two strong and viable parties to keep from becoming a one party state, which leads inevitably to ideological blindness and personal corruption.