Saturday, April 18, 2015

Right – Left – Middle

I watched as GOP candidates scrambled desperately at the most recent National Rifle Association meeting,  telling the assembled group that we should be arming Americans, fostering “stand-your-ground” laws and getting out of the way of gun-owner’s rights and focus on disarming Islamic militants. Didn’t matter whether they were merely fiscal conservatives or chasing that determinative centrist segment that seems to define the genuine American body politic, to run as a Republican these days requires embracing socially conservative “Tea Party” policies that alienate voters during general elections but are fundamental to making it through the nominating process.
Indeed, as Mitt Romney discovered in the last election, the speeches you have to make to get the GOP nomination really come back to haunt you in the big final vote. It seems odd, given that overall centrist reality of the average American voter, that nobody clearly embraces just that middle-of-the-road vote. The GOP is sadly encumbered by an out-of-date white-dominated, rural traditionalist constituency tugging desperately to move the nation back into the pre-WWII values of a nation that was not defined by big urban centers, complex technology, environmental devastation, cultural diversity, extreme economic polarization and a merciless level of global competition.
Fiscal conservatives perhaps rue the day that they coopted Evangelicals (the white rural traditionalists) to gather enough votes to allow big business and the wealthiest segment to push lower taxes and less regulation – their real business goals – through Congress. Perhaps, given the size of their political losses in the 1960s, they felt they had no choice. The SuperPac business donors, knowing that the mega-rich are a tiny elite that by themselves would never have enough weight to have passed their desired financially-driven legislation, have bought heavily into socially conservative issues – issues that they really don’t embrace – simply to insure that their money-driven agenda is surrounded by enough supporting votes.
But GOP fans, today there are plenty of people in the middle (including a pile of Blue Dog Democrats) who are worried about excess government spending, don’t support heavy taxation or undue regulation, but are actually embarrassed by anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-secular, anti-equal-rights-for-women, anti-scientific-fact religious “zealots” pushing a socially conservative agenda that they abhor. These are the critical votes that actually determine who wins the presidential election.
And let’s face it, with Hillary Clinton now formally in the presidential race, absent even more embarrassing disclosures, she is likely the Democratic candidate – a centrist who could easily have passed as a Republican in the 1950s and 60s. As I like to say, my two favorite Republican presidents in the late 20th century are Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton. But Hillary’s presence on the political scene, in addition to reflecting a possible new American political “dynasty” (an issue also facing GOP candidate Jeb Bush), is a seemingly worn incumbency, a candidate who has been around for too long, and not particularly charming or likeable with enough scandals sticking to her to make the upcoming election more of a mud-slinging fest than we have ever seen before.
The Clinton advantage, however, is that she is a rather clear centrist. The closest that the GOP can come to that position, at least so far, is Jeb Bush, but it is precisely that centrism that declared candidates, Rand Paul and well-funded Ted Cruz, are attacking. Willing to shut down government, railing against big business willing to defy “religious freedom” laws meant to advance anti-gay policies, rather openly, social conservatives are now militating in favor of economically destabilizing platforms that hurt American business to force their social agendas. That it was precisely the big GOP corporate players that forced states to dilute those “religious freedom” laws that angered Tea Party Evangelicals.
“Whit Ayres, a pollster and the author of ‘2016 and Beyond: How Republicans Can Elect a President in the New America,’ argues that Republicans must come to terms with the fact that the public has shifted in a liberal direction on same-sex unions and homosexuality generally: ‘Public opinion has rendered its verdict on the morality of gay and lesbian relationships. The only question is whether the Republican Party will acknowledge and adapt to this new reality.’…
“[Jeb] Bush, the leading prospective establishment candidate, told attendees at a fund-raiser in Palo Alto, Calif., on [April 10th] that he supports ‘a big, diverse country’ and that he is opposed to discrimination ‘based on sexual orientation.’… Bush’s comments may not sound earthshaking to Democratic liberals, but in the context of intraparty Republican warfare, his words are fighting words.
“Before the religious freedom controversy, Republicans of all stripes had quietly struggled to resolve growing intraparty tensions away from the public spotlight…. Republican strategists and policy mavens are wary of the potential divisiveness of a public battle between the party’s mainstream and its cultural right that could split the party, even though many agree that such a split is inevitable.” New York Times, April 10th.
Jeb Bush is trying to unsettle these social conservatives – not enough to defy the NRA, obviously – but enough to generate the kind of support that big business can throw in his direction. His immigration leanings also anger the Base. But will his attractiveness to the Republican establishment be sufficient for him to overcome the rather strong Evangelical Tea Party Base that remains bitter over that same GOP-establishment-Romney nomination and ultimate loss in the last presidential election?
Rich power blocs were willing to allow their socially conservative segments to push their agendas, without much concern for what such agendas might be, until they began to threaten those businesses directly. “For the first time in recent memory, key members of the corporate establishment, including businesses with close ties to the Republican Party, have publicly defied social conservatives in nationally publicized confrontations.
“Leaders of companies like J. W. Marriott and Walmart – both Republican mainstays – were at the forefront of the drive to force Republican governors and the Legislatures of Indiana, Arkansas and Georgia to amend or back off entirely from the enactment of so-called religious freedom legislation, which could be construed to allow discrimination against gays.
“The result was a major victory for party centrists, including Karl Rove; Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee; and their corporate allies, all of whom have been conducting a guerrilla war to wrest power over the party agenda from the Tea Party and the religious right.” NY Times.
With clear evidence that the youngest segment of potential conservative voters are rather significantly opposed to intolerance and exclusionary politics, either the GOP will evolve into that centrist party of fiscal conservatives, diluting and perhaps extinguishing the retrograde Tea Party over time, or that segment of new and existing fiscal conservative voters are ripe for the picking by something new and exciting… in the middle.
There is enough concern for what is perceived to be overly generous social benefits programs – excluding the sacrosanct set-asides for the elderly – such that many in the Democratic party would like to see some belt-tightening… even as more and more middle class Democrats find themselves tumbling down the economic ladder. We’re really good at lying to ourselves as nine out of ten voters describing themselves as “middle class,” a statistical impossibility.
Yet for political realists, it may well be a time for Blue Dog Democrats and fiscally-conservative Republicans without a social agenda to separate themselves from their parties’ extreme and voter-alienating segments. It may be time for a new, third party dedicated to the middle, one that would reflect the reality of the voters that actually do make the choice for who will be president. But political change in America is increasingly difficult to implement; our unworkable, grid-locking, American political party system is likely to remain hopelessly useless and intact for the foreseeable future, not remotely reflecting the wishes of the majority of Americans.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I finding it amazing that so many in this great nation are willing to allow the nation to unravel to push agendas that really are not embraced by the majority of Americans… and not care.

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