5.05.2009

THE WRITING ON THE WALL

BY LUSCUS

As I’m sure we’re all aware, Arlen Specter jumped ship on April 29th, and has now handed the Democrats their 60-seat majority on a silver platter. That is, of course, when Coleman finally gives up in Minnesota. Why did Specter switch, you ask? Easy – he likes his job better than he likes his party, and he knows that there was a spot on the Dem’s 2010 scalp wall with Specter stenciled above it.

I don’t expect the party to make up seats in the mid-term election. It’d be nice, but I’m not holding my breath. The Obama campaign has kept chugging along, and his personal popularity ought to be enough to see his party squeak through with a handful of gains. Is this the end of the world? No, but it does mean that the Republicans need to take this time in the wilderness to improve. They’ve got to do a Rocky IV montage of pulling logs in the Siberian wilderness, because quite frankly, that’s what’s needed. Not to win the fight, no, but to avoid a new ‘era of good feelings’ and effective one-party rule for the next 20-40 years.

During the last Republican ascendancy, the party was aided by a brilliant pundit who chased the crazies out of the tent and turned what was an odd mish-mash of whigs, tories, libertarians, southern old-boys, the military, and yes, even crypto-fascists into the party that would usher in a revolution. William F. Buckley, Jr., we will miss you.

With our watchman retired, the crazies have snuck back in. The idea that we can roll back the last 17 years (21 for many) is stupid. The idea that we can allow unmitigated self-regulation across the board is also stupid. Do we need a 90% tax rate? Of course not, but locking down all meaningful traffic in Congress over a stupid 34/39% rate only leads to more of the political tribalism that’s sent this country into a downward spiral. The tea parties were a stupid idea, rightfully mocked by the left AND middle. Open discussion about where a big chunk of this spending is going is legitimate and necessary. Allowing all of the anti-government cranks to rant about “teabagging the president” is hilarious to watch, shameful when affiliated with one’s party. The ONLY redeeming thing I can think that these events could have accomplished is to fill the party’s coffers, and not merely inflate Lipton’s quarterly revenue.

Reagan’s “three-legged stool” of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and defense hawks, has been shattered by the fusing of the latter two groups into the NeoCons, a group whose name is an oxymoron: having abandoned the textbook realism of its conservative forebears, this group preaches the exporting of our values (textbook liberalism) and by force, if necessary (imperialism). Picking up our slack, the Democrats’ 50-state policy actively recruited moderate Republicans to run against their more right-wing Republican opponents. They succeeded, and wildly. I’m not even talking about Rockefeller Republicans, as even the moderates have been chased out of the party in favor of rabid populism.

It is a simple truth of politics that the biggest tent wins elections. By setting up a bigger tent, the Democrats have collected the votes needed to push their agendas. Are some of them wrong for the country? Yes. By chasing off potential allies and drawing a strict red line around a little circle of ideas will the Republican Party regain even a competitive balance? No.

Here is Luscus’ New Republican platform, by which the GOP has a chance to not be relegated to a third party of cranks when the Democratic wings eventually split:

1. Tough on Crime, Punishment reform – Luscus’ new criminal platform is toughest on white-collar crime, with two tracks of punishment for violent and non-violent offenders of other crime. Punishment reform would see the elimination of the three-strike rule for drug use offenders, and a 2nd track of addiction treatment and education (not incarceration) for all users, with all street-dealers’ punishment commuted upon conviction of their suppliers (higher up the chain, more time commuted).
2. War on Drugs now War on Organized Crime – new approach would buy drug supplies from growing countries (Columbia, Afghanistan, Myanmar) and eliminate the income source of middle-man cartels in a drive to break the cycle of drugs – guns – human trafficking/political intimidation. This would see a massive hike in the level of cooperation with Mexico, even to the point of using the US military against the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels.
3. Immigration Reform – all of the rabid anti-immigrant border Nazis must leave the party. Yes, it gets votes, but forcing millions of GDP-boosting workers off of the grid fuels crime, and reduces the government’s rightful take of their wages. The sad truth of this is that a contracting economy makes this a significantly smaller problem than when times were good. Luscus would enact a ‘guest-worker’ program similar to Germany’s gastarbeiters, and give blanket amnesty to all undocumented workers that signed up for these 1-2 year work permits. This would also allow unlimited H-1B visas (for specialty occupation) so long as the holder had guaranteed employment.
4. Foreign Policy – adoption of Wilsonian Realism (or Pragmatic Wilsonianism) as foreign policy, which combines textbook Realism in dealing with diminishing sovereignty at irregular levels with international treaties and fora with the goal of a single world order that includes all participants. This means pumping up the NPT and IAEA, reigning in China’s egocentrism (and currency manipulation), and working more closely with Russia and Europe to establish order (not necessarily democracy) as the preeminent goal of world cooperation.
5. Political Financial Reform – Two giant planks of this: 1) every member of congress, and all non-career civil servants (especially cabinet rank) would undergo annual auditing by the IRS. 2) Campaign donations would be limited to residents of one’s constituency, so if you’re running for house, it’s your district. If you’re running for Senate, within the state. If you’re running for President, you can only spend the money you raise within each state. No term limits, but no more California Real Estate moguls deciding who wins in Kentucky.

I’m leaving off Domestic Policy, because the next 3-7 years will change the system so radically it won’t matter. If I were to have one, it would be Infrastructure investment – this would eliminate stupid subsidies (Corn-based ethanol, farms over 1000 acres) and invest in infrastructure the way the Eisenhower Interstate System did – more high speed rail (private competition) for certain industrial corridors, Special Economic Zones (SEZ) along the rust belt (Buffalo, Cleveland, entire state of Michigan), roll-on container ships for coastal transit of trailer trucks to relieve stress on coastal interstates, smart water and electrical grids (with huge investment in security to keep the Chinese and Russians out) and expanded broadband and wifi for urban centers. This would be a pro-growth, pro-job policy that would set out national goals instead of constituency-projects (which is how it’s being handled now). All numbers would be run by the GAO and the Congressional Research Service, and published as such. Education reform would see more charter schools, and a reversal of the No Child Left Behind standards – instead of the federal government mandating training and states setting benchmarks, we’d see national standardized tests and the states would determine qualifications (ideally minimal).

Otherwise, here are Luscus’ predictions for short to medium term Domestic policy:

1. Increasing scope of Medicare/Medicaid will price out private insurance, leading to a nationalized health care system by attrition and not enactment
2. Letting Wall Street gamble with pension plans will see nationalization of retirement, as the last two years has shown that we can’t trust either the retirees or their financial managers to handle their retirement accounts
3. Bastardized nationalization of banks will see more and more bankers become millionaires, while limiting entry to this Midas caste to family members of executives
4. Gay marriage legalized, but not the right way (must give civil benefits evenly and respect religion’s beliefs and give them a right to choose who to serve).

Am I angry? Yes. Am I cranky? Yes. What makes me different is that I am anti-populist, seethingly anti-corruption, and can sum up my feelings towards our elected officials in four words: Grow The F*** Up. You’re elected to make the tough decisions, not to entrench yourself in a high-paying high-profile fundraising job with all sorts of perks. By manipulating the easily-swayed boobs of the population, you’ve balkanized the country into crazy tribes who can’t talk to each other, don’t know what they’re talking about, and are getting louder and louder.

What Republicans have to do to regain their relevance is to become as seethingly anti-corruption as I am, strike out against globalized crime, domestic corruption (on Wall Street and on K street), and adopt an economic pragmatism that may stray from strict ideology from time to time. In short: don’t drink the Kool Aid, drive off the crazies, and get back to doing the heavy lifting and number crunching.

6 comments:

Ben Wheat said...

I think being rabidly moderate can be just as counter-productive as being rabidly conservative. You're arguing for a big tent in one breath and then talking about chasing out "crazies" in the next. When you invite people into your movement that only agree with you 60% of the time, you're building a very fragile coalition that will not survive when the opposition cleverly applies leverage to the issues that could divide you. I'd need to hear you reconcile that first of all.

Second, I agree that the debate to refocus the conservative movement has to be pragmatic and reasoned rather than just angry ranting. But before we move forward we have to agree on some unifying, bedrock philosophical principles otherwise you'll just end up like the GOP under Bush: a confused amalgamation of big-spending, hawkish social conservatives.

I know you're looking at what conservatism has to do to win, which is fine and I understand that, but I think you may undervalue conservatism (of the sort espoused on this blog and others, which is more akin to libertarianism in some ways) and its broad appeal. You don't have to sell out on some issues to win voters, what you have to do is clearly articulate the conservative alternative to them directly. Right now the GOP is afraid to do that. They're only comfortable talking about fiscal conservatism (after they blew the wad from 2001-2006 as a result of moderate policies influenced by liberal premises).

I don't think there's anything wrong with conservatism sitting a few elections out in order to get itself together philosophically and sell its ideas to the American people. There's no better opportunity than the one we have right now, with liberals in total control of the government, to show the stark contrasts between our two movements.

Case in point: liberalism (unfettered, far left liberalism) won big in 2008. They ran some conservative Democrats in districts and states where they had to, but their platform is one of radical liberalism. They have not diluted their agenda to attract conservatives. They have just said that they are. Now why should conservatives settle for anything less than governing with a conservative agenda to the fullest extent possible?

Luscus said...

The Democrats won big not by being anti-conservative, but by being anti-Republican. Their platform was as vague and empty as Bush's was (they learned a great deal from Rove's meaningless ballet initiatives) - all populist drivel (we'll give you everything you want in grand sweeping gestures...vaguely). They openly recruited moderate Republicans and military veterans to run against Republican incumbents (seriously, Jim Webb as a democrat!?) in red states (their 50 state strategy is far more sweeping than "where they had to" - I think you undervalue their efforts in building up party infrastructure), and built their party identity on three planks: health care for everyone, green everything, and a seething hatred of Bush.

Here are the unifying bedrock principles: limited/efficient government, personal accountability, and fiscal responsibility. To expand on your first challenge and to clarify my point, I meant that the crazies must be chased out of any decision making, policy setting, leadership or 'moral' leadership role. No more angry populists (yes, we have them too), no more insane single issue crusaders (I'm looking at you, Nancy Grace), and no more crooks. I think we're both in agreement that the party under Bush lost its way, and getting smarter about spending is critical. Control of all three branches of govt made the party lazy and greedy.

Libertarian's major flaw is that to work, your society must be made up of grizzled and responsible libertarians. I think the era of personal responsibility (marked by tax havens, getting rich by providing neither product nor service, the financial corruption of officials and subsequent systemic rot) is waning. What effective counterbalance to human nature we need I'm not sure, but leaving people to their own devices in all situations is not viable.

Liberalism's main flaw is that solving problems is expensive and quickly devolves into attempting flawless customer service (the customer is always right) to a customer base of 300 million.

In order to succeed, the GOP needs a comprehensive platform, greater media savvy, and candidates that people want to vote for - this last part is the biggest and toughest task at hand.

Your last point strikes it home - by recruiting moderate voices, the very liberal Democrat leadership can push an increasingly liberal agenda. This will break, but not before a lot of legislation is passed. This is what Republicans need to do - have a broad coalition in order to control the legislative agenda.

Hariolor said...

Luscus,

You said too much in your post for me to address it all in one breath. Perhaps a future post of my own will provide some counterpoint.

I believe I balk most at your premise that a governing party controlling the federal government is necessarily a good thing under some specific circumstances. This is perhaps partly because you make repeated references to Republicans and the GOP - both of which are defunct notions at this point in history.

As to your claim that libertarianism fails because it requires everyone to be libertarian, I would argue quite the opposite. The beauty of a small-government, low-tax, high-liberty system is that most people can be as slothful and useless as they please, and are likely to prosper both economically and socially.

As to your political platform, I would caution you to keep compliance costs in mind when suggesting anything involving the private sector.

I believe neo-imperialist interference in drug-producing regions is ultimately fruitless. The economy of drugs and their distribution is one that could be flipped upside-down via legalization.

Mexican immigrants may be GDP-boosters (for what that statistic is worth). But consider how the IRS is now catching thousands upon thousands of illegals: tax credits for children in working families are being claimed under false social security numbers. Much as the inclusion of the SSN on a federal tax return led to a dramatic decrease in illegal benefits taken during the end of the last century, now closer monitoring of tax-filing (not tax-paying) illegals is showing that illegal workers are probably a bigger drain than a boon. Most illegals, even those that file taxes, are going to fall on the low end of the income spectrum. So much so, in fact, that they get more money back in refundable credits (often claimed illegally) than they contribute to the system.

Finally, I would say that populism is as bad as factionalism. At least with factionalism, there is less efficiency in government, which means fewer laws and higher rates of turnover. When populism reigns, we are subject to the tyrrany of the masses. If I wanted to be subject to the whims of popular opinion, I'd move to a democratic country. I like my republic, thank you very much, let's keep it that way.

Tony Cannizzaro said...

One question that has been left unanswered is how the democrats managed to pull moderate conservatives out from beneath the republican banner. The GOP embraced too passionately the party’s extreme end? In part, but this cannot be the whole story. By all accounts, the President (while somewhat moderate in his rhetoric) is as polarizing a figure in his political realities as any we have had in recent history. Hypothetically, the movement of moderates across party lines should have looked a little more even, expressly in an election like our last one, in which the Republican candidate (while not emblematic of the party as a whole) was by far the more moderate of the two.

The problem lies in perceptions. Certainly Republican hypocrisy, poor decisions by the Bush administration, and an unpopular war have all had a role to play in the downfall of the GOP, but these causes are proximate in nature. The true nature of this coup has been long planned, and is structural in nature.

The Left in the United States, and indeed around the world, have suffered over the last hundred years from a deficit of results. Leftist agenda's have failed throughout modern history to provide social and economic benefits to the constituencies they portend to serve, often times proving to be massively destructive instead (look at Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward, the last 50 years of Cuba, or even England's woefully unproductive public healthcare system). Failure does not breed confidence, and without confidence, the Left cannot maintain power.

For my entire lifetime and before, the Left has set about to obtain legitimacy by alternative means. Radical progressives have gradually taken control of public education, universities and the media, and as such are allowed to define the basis of public debate in their terms. In fewer words, they have redefined what "middle of the road" means by teaching generations of Americans that their view is the middle ground. The Left defines the debate in this country, performance of past policy be damned.

While I do not doubt there is an honest discussion to be had about what policy actions and platforms can and should be developed to redefine our party system, ultimately the debate is moot without addressing the structural problems as well. We need a new generation of thinkers to take back the intelligencia in this country. We need teachers and professors who educate, instead of indoctrinate. We need a media that once again embraces journalistic integrity. Our schools and news currently preach the intentions of past Leftists, experimenting to make social improvements. They never share the results, the failure of these experiments: The mediocrity of public healthcare, the subjugation of private liberties for the supposed common good, and even mass starvation in the direst of examples.

This is one of the reasons why I personally want to reenter academia. If anyone out there reading this experienced the same educational system I did, if you were taught a point of view, instead of being given facts so you might form your own opinion, I would be honored if you join me. The Left flourishes in the current climate of intellectual stagnation. The ideology and policies of small government and personal responsibility are clearly superior morally and pragmatically, but will continue to be an uphill battle to implement until our populace is once again filled with freethinkers.

Maccrock said...

Being a strong minded conservative, I found this post nearly offensive. And as far as some of the solutions proposed in these responses, my main concern is time frame. Extreme amounts of irreconcilable damage, even damage that is too costly to rectify, can be done in the time that it would take to enact such things, not to mentions measures that would be developed to slow or stop such change.

Is there another way?

Maccrock said...

Maybe create a secondary system, while at the same time trying to reform what has been degraded...?