washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

Grover the Top

Every time I think that conservative super-lobbyist and “starve the beast” theoretician Grover Norquist has finally reached the maximum feasible level of provocative craziness, he finds a way to ratchet his rhetoric up another notch. Last year’s “bipartisanship is another name for date rape” quip was pretty far off the charts. But thanks to Daily Kos (who posted a translation of the piece), Grover’s outdone himself again in an op-ed for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. Why is he upbeat about the political future of “our team” as against the hated Democratic opposition? Let him explain.

Each year, 2 million people who fought in the Second World War and lived through the Great Depression die. This generation has been an exeception in American history, because it has defended anti-American policies. They voted for the creation of the welfare state and obligatory military service. They are the base of the Democratic Party. And they are dying. And, at the same time, all the time more Americans have stocks. That makes them defend the interests of business, because it is their own interest. Because of that, it’s impossible to bring to the fore policies of social hate, of class warfare.

Now it’s no secret that Grover’s one of those people who not only wants to win elections against Democrats, but would just as soon see us all dead. But it’s uncharacteristic of him to rely on Demographic Destiny to kill off the Greatest Generation and destroy the Democratic Party base. I figure Grover wants to be the angry executioner, not just the cheerful pallbearer.
It would all be pretty funny if it weren’t for the fact that Norquist is a close friend of Karl Rove, an important ally of George W. Bush, the evil genius behind the K Street Strategy, and perhaps the biggest dog in the conservative activist kennel.


Two Plus Two Equals–Democrats!

With Capitol Hill so listless that staffers are sneaking out of Washington to work in campaigns “instead of miming the motions of work in a Congress that’s on legislative autopilot,” as Hans Nichols put it in The Hill newspaper today, Republican House Members are occupying themselves with an effort to supress or perhaps just pre-spin an impending CBO report showing more bad news on the budget if the president’s policies are implemented.
According to a Ben Pershing report in (subscription-only) Roll Call today, an aide to House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA) sent around a memo warning that the new report, which was requested by Committee Democrats, “will be immediately used solely for political purposes.” But here’s the interesting part of Mead’s whine: “The majority or minority staff can easily calculate these deficit projections on their own using CBO’s data provided to us. However, I suspect the reason CBO is being asked to do the math is to lend the all-important seal of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to their partisan calculations.”
Hmmmm. It’s just a matter of doing the math, but doing the math means a “partisan calculation.” I know Republicans tend to think that scientists are biased towards the views of godless liberals; that’s why the Bush administration is stacking federal science panels with conservative ideologues. But now, it appears, they have to do something to deal with the Democratic conspiracy that suffuses mathematics as well. No wonder they don’t care about fiscal arithmetic.


You Don’t Have To Be Christian To Be a Deacon

In my post on Zell Miller’s latest ukase against the Georgia Democrats he’s abandoned, I failed to note that the zany senator referred to former president Jimmy Carter, former U.S. representative Ben Jones, and current state Democratic Party chairman Bobby Kahn as “a Board of Deacons for Democratic Disaster.”
Kahn informed me by email that “my rabbi has congratulated me on becoming a Deacon.”
Selah.


You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Love Leon

If you’ve been reading The New Republic as long as I have, you’re probably aware that the magazine has gone through a lot of changes in editorial and political direction over the last two decades. But one of the constants, since 1983, has been TNR’s “back of the book”–its literary and cultural commentary, edited by Leon Wieseltier.
Like many TNR regulars, I sometimes find Wieseltier’s editorial decisions a bit esoteric. I’m frankly not interested in modern dance, sculpture, or the latest developments in the echo chambers of literary criticism or neo-Freudian psychology. But hey, you can’t please or stimulate everybody.
Leon’s own writing is often difficult and occasionally too self-consciously ironic. But when he’s on, he’s on, and no one in the world of quasi-political analysis is his equal in exposing the moral hazards of political rhetoric. He provides another fine example in the current TNR, in a brief, elegant, and passionate essay about the settler-driven backlash on the Israeli Right against Ariel Sharon’s effort to withdraw from Gaza.
Here’s a sample:

It is certainly the case that the right to Nablus and the right to Tel Aviv is the same right–a right, after all, pertains to the whole; but Palestinians have this right too, which is why partition of the land, territorial compromise, the widom of the founders of the Jewish state who prevailed over the ideological ancestors of the indignant irredentists of today, remains the only answer, because it signifies an agreement to suspend the rhetoric of rights, which is the rhetoric of war.

Wieseltier’s detractors would undoubtedly observe that this is a very, very long sentence, which would take half a chalkboard to diagram. But it’s worth unpacking, because it’s packed with important and inter-related insights. And in the end, if you understand each phrase, you understand a lot more about the Zionist case for the recognition of a Palestinian State. And you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate that.


The Harrowing of Zell

Okay, I admit it: my inability to ignore Zell Miller’s continual ravings is in part because of the bottomless opportunities he provides for catchy titles playing off the Zell/Hell pun. And I haven’t even resorted to “Zell’s Bells,” “To Zell in a Handbasket,” or even “Zell No, We Won’t Go.”
Today’s installment of “Come Zell or High Water” was provoked by another logic-defying Miller statement, this time in a open letter to “All Georgia Democratic Candidates” essentially urging them to follow his lead in abandoning the party to save the party. No kidding.
The nut of Zell’s argument is to analogize this election to that of 1972, when George McGovern was the presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter was Governor of Georgia, Sam Nunn was running for the Senate, and Miller himself was state party executive director. “We cautiously and carefully worked to avoid any connection between the far-left presidential candidate and our centrist state and local candidates.” As a result, “Nunn received 54 percent and Georgia Democrats continued to dominate the state Legislature and local offices,” and then four years later Carter was elected president.
Gee, Senator, I was a Georgia Democrat who watched the 1972 election pretty closely, and I somehow missed that part where Jimmy Carter or Sam Nunn endorsed Nixon, praised all his domestic and international policies, went to the Republican convention and made a fist-shaking attack on the Democratic nominee, and then went barnstorming around the country with Tricky Dick. Georgia Democrats managed somehow to avoid supporting Nixon at all, even though a lot of them back then were George Wallace supporters who probably thought “centrist” was a synonym for “communist.”
Miller can’t seem to get his mind around the reality that he is not a Democrat anymore in any meaningful sense of the term. He didn’t just endorse Bush or smear Kerry; he’s become one of the most reliable votes in the U.S. Senate for the Republican Party line. His very first step down this slippery slope was to cosponsor Bush’s original tax cut proposal. In doing so, he deeply undercut the very “centrist and conservative” Democrats he claims to represent, who were either opposing the whole mess (like the DLC did) or trying to force Bush into a compromise that wouldn’t break the bank and might give poor and middle-class folks a few scraps from the table. And now he’s accusing Georgia Democrats of cowardice for failing to make total surrender to the opposition their highest principle.
Before his New York tirade, part of Miller’s rap was that he intended to help “rebuild” the Democratic Party after helping beat Kerry in November. That was a laugh. Now in his open letter he continues to say: “I still care deeply about the Georgia Democratic Party.” The joke’s over.


Is Coburn OK?

One of the most interesting Senate races this year is in OK, where New Dem Rep. Brad Carson is fighting to take away a Red State seat being vacated by Don Nickles. His Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Dr. Tom Coburn, makes Nickles look like Rudy Guiliani. Today’s NYT profiles Coburn as a hero of the national Right. But the question is whether the Mad Doctor from Muscogee has managed to become too conservative for Oklahoma.
As the Times notes, Coburn is renowned for taking unusually extreme positions on cultural issues, attacking the promotion of condom use to prevent AIDS as a pro-gay position; calling for capital punishment for abortion providers; and referring to his contest with the moderate-to-conservative Carson as a battle between “good and evil.” But oddly enough, Coburn spends most of his time on the campaign trail blasting Congress for letting the federal budget deficit get out of control. Last time we checked, Republicans controlled Congress and the budget process. Coburn appears to be demanding cognitive dissonance from Bush voters in OK, who have repeatedly heard the president alternate between dismissals of budget deficits as irrelevant, and claims that everything’s getting better.
The last few polls have shown Carson pulling ahead of Coburn, who had a sizeable lead after his win in the GOP primary. If his history is any indicator, Coburn will respond by moving even farther to the Right. We’ll soon see if the center can hold in Oklahoma.


Message Indiscipline on Iraq

Unless you did a lot of channel-surfing earlier today, you might have missed the overall story of four Republican Senators dissenting from the administration’s happy-talk about how we are doing in Iraq. The New York Times summed it up:

Reflecting rising concerns, one senior Republican senator said today that the United States was in “deep trouble” in Iraq, another denounced administration “incompetence” in Iraqi reconstruction, while two others said that unless American-led forces quickly retake several areas from insurgents, credible elections cannot be held in January.

The senators’ comments, made on televised political programs, underscored mounting worries even within President Bush’s party about the murderous attacks of recent weeks, and about the coalition’s failure to bring some Iraqi cities under control.

The comments of Senators Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina came as the interim Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, was telling a television interviewer that “we are winning” the fight against what he said were increasingly desperate insurgents.

You can certainly forgive Allawi for spinning the situation as positively as he possibly can, but Americans have the right, and the responsibility, to make an independent assessment of conditions on the ground. And it looks increasingly like the Bush administration is not going to be able to distract attention from those conditions between now and November 2.


Ends and Means

My post earlier today about Mitch McConnell and Rick Santorum, and the cash nexus that seems to link conservative ideology to partisan Republican power, probably requires an additonal comment.
When you look at guys like DeLay and Santorum, the charitable interpretation of their behavior is that they sincerely believe American politics is a battle between good and evil, civilization and barbarism, the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death, or the “real America” and the not-so American America, to cite several Manichean formulations common in conservative circles. That leads them to believe they are morally compelled to fight for partisan political power, and then to descend further down that slippery slope to the belief that practices clearly unethical in daily life are actually ethical in this titantic struggle. This is standard “ends justifies the means” reasoning, as any student of history can tell you.
But history also shows that in the van of every movement of political, religious, or cultural extremism, there are those who invert the equation, using the righteous ends to pursue the morally bankrupt means. The examples are far too numerous to list, but they range from the Spanish Catholics who used the Inquisition to dispossess their business rivals on trumped-up heresy charges to the English Protestants who exploited the Reformation’s horror of Masses for the Dead to seize monastic lands; from the U.S. carpetbaggers who joined the fight against the post-Civil War Ku Klux Klan to obtain military backing for their own political and economic avarice, to the kleptocrats who used the communist ideology of equality to build a new privileged class of party bureaucrats throughout the Soviet Bloc. It goes on and on.
No, I’m not comparing Tom DeLay or Rick Santorum to any of these great villains of the past, and I’m fully aware that there are plenty of people in the Democratic Party who would behave the same way if given the opportunity. But the salient point is that any effort to make the “ends justify the means” tends to devolve into the means as an end in themselves, over and over again, thoughout human history. Principled conservatives need to ask themselves if their movement is currently endangered by this moral hazard, and police their ranks accordingly. A good start would be to stop applauding, and begin questioning, those political leaders most eager to justify the lowest tactics by the highest ideals.


W. Stands for “Weak”

Ever wonder why the president’s steely-eyed determination to pre-emptively attack challenges to America doesn’t extend to non-defense issues? Looks like Tony Blair has wondered that too, as reflected in a very clever speech on global climate change that uses the same calculus of risk applied to the decision to invade Iraq. He doesn’t mention Bush by name, but makes a pretty good indirect case that W. is a weasely, flip-flopping defeatist who’s made the U.S. the France of environmental policy. Today’s New Dem Daily connects the dots and draws the obvious conclusions.


Unmasked

Most pundits have given the GOP high marks for the “moderate makeover” (less charitable souls might call it a “con job”) it accomplished on the first couple of days of its convention in New York, featuring speeches by John McCain, Rudy Guiliani and Arnold Schwarzeneggar, three people who disagree with 80% of the conservative orthodoxy that governs today’s Republicans.
The underlying reality of today’s GOP is better illustrated by a (subscription only) Roll Call article on Wednesday about the early handicapping of the contest to succeed Bill Frist as Republican Senate Leader when he retires in 2006. The two front-runners are Mitch McConnell of KY, and Rick Santorum of PA, both of whom, as Roll Call says, “represent the conservative wing of the party.” That’s the understatement of the year.
But ideology aside, what really distinguishes these two solons is their dedication to the idea that money is the root of all good in politics. McConnell for many years has been the Darth Vader of campaign finance reform in the Senate, repeatedly claiming, without a hint of irony, that the problem with money in politics is that there ain’t enough of it. (I guess there is a rough logic to the idea that if, as the Supreme Court has ruled, Money Equals Speech, then Money Talks, and what’s wrong with a little more debate?).
Nationally, Santorum is best known as the hammerhead shark of Social Conservatism, ever ready to demonize those who defend the constitutional right to choose, and those who oppose a constitutional right to discriminate against gays and lesbians. But in Washington, Santorum is better known as the Chief Enforcer of the sinister K Street Strategy. That’s the GOP’s remarkably heavy-handed campaign to force Washington lobbying firms and trade associations to (a) tilt all campaign contributions to the GOP, and (b) hire only Republicans on their staffs, or lose all access to the drafting and crafting of legislation important to their industries. It’s the crassest pay-for-play gambit on Capitol Hill since the Gilded Age, but it’s given Santorum folk-hero status on the Right as Tom DeLay’s true peer in partisan and ideological thuggery.
Of course, Democrats could well take back control of the Senate this year (when McConnell’s up for re-election) and in 2006 (when Santorum’s up), which would seriously mess up the GOP effort to shake down K Street and consolidate its power over the federal government it claims to despise. Santorum has an especially tricky task ahead, since he has to go back to Pennsylvania and perform his own “moderate makeover” if he is to get himself into a position to cash in on the services he’s performed for the hard-core Right.
Ah, those flip-flopping Republicans! Fuzzy and moderate before close general elections, and then something entirely different when the cameras go off.