12 Steps to a Healthy Republican Party

by Jaybird

There is a scene in C.S. Lewis’s _The Great Divorce that has been sticking in my craw in the last month or so. It’s the scene where they talk about Napoleon. If you haven’t read it (you should, it’s good) it’s a discussion of Hell. Hell, Lewis explains, is a place where one’s wishes are immediately granted. The problem is that people wish for things that make them feel better without actually helping them. The narrator talks to a couple of folks who say they looked up Napoleon. They spent a year spying on him and they said that all he did was pace back and forth saying “It was Soult’s fault. It was Ney’s fault. It was Josephine’s fault.” That’s all he did. For an eternity.

I’m enough of an optimist to say that the wilderness is not for *THAT*… but, goodness, measuring some of the responses to the election, one might think that it was. People explaining that it was the fault of the media, or the fault of insufficiently rigorous investigation into the whereabouts of Barack (HUSSEIN!!!) Obama’s mother at the moment of his birth, or even the fault of the faithless American People. It was Soult’s fault. It was Ney’s fault. It was Josephine’s fault.

To be sure, much of the complaining has taken the form of something like “if only you had been more like me, you would have succeeded. Since you were more like you, of course you failed.” While this argument feels good when you say it (go on, say it), it loses much of its oomph when one realizes that social conservatives are saying it at the same time as fiscal conservatives and yet again at the same time as defense hawks at the same time as paleocons at the same time as neocons at the same time as libertarians at the same time as Lincoln Chafee is saying it. Sure, one or two of these groups may be right (I’m pretty sure that at least one is) but the argument itself is just as likely to be the letting off of steam as it is an accurate measurement of the state of affairs.

Best to take a step back and think about what really happened and what it means. What happened in 2004? The Republicans won. Big Time. They picked up seats in their majority-controlled Senate, they picked up seats in their majority-controlled House. They re-won the White House with a majority vote and that is something that people hadn’t seen since 1988. Four years later, the Democrats have a nigh-unfillibusterable lead in the Senate. The Democrats have the House. Obama won the White House with a percentage of the electoral college so large that you have to go back to Lyndon Johnson in 1964 to see a democrat exceed it.

This is more than can be pinned on Josephine.

The Republican Party is sick… but this is a sickness brought about by its own actions. If it is to get better, it has to change its life. Not only the party leadership but its lay members who, in many cases, are its best-of-intentioned enablers.

If you are familiar with Twelve-Step Programs (and who isn’t?), you know that the first step is to admit that you have a problem.

Why is this important? Surely the temptation is to point out that, hey, life is painful. One’s spouse is unpleasant. One’s job is drudgery. One’s hobbies are boring and feel more like chores than diversions. Hey, who *WOULDN’T* want to engage in some bad habitry at the end of the day with those situations surrounding one?

Well, it’s not about whether one reasonably reached the point where bad habits made sense. It’s not about that at all. It’s that if one wishes to regain some semblance of sanity, the first step is to admit that one’s life has gotten out of control.

2004: 55 Senators. 231 Representatives. 286 Presidential Electoral Votes.

2008: 41 Senators. 178 Representatives. 173 Presidential Electoral Votes.

First, you have to admit that you have a problem.

If you don’t admit that you have a problem, you can expect to find yourself getting even worse. You could shrug off and say, hey, the pendulum swings. (14 Senators, 53 Representatives, and 113 electoral votes over the course of 4 years is a pendulum swing?) If you don’t admit you have a problem, whether you find yourself on top again depends more on whether the other guys can force the pendulum back quickly enough into your side than on any action (as opposed to reaction) you make. Most importantly, if you don’t admit that you have a problem, you will never achieve *HEALTH*.

At this point in the power dynamic, it’s not about maybe winning an election again (though it will, of course, involve that on some level) but it’s about not being sick. You admit that you have a problem when you realize that, hey, you don’t want to be sick anymore. Even if you can’t have the life you once did, you won’t be sick.

Step two. A power greater than your own can bring you back to sanity.

Now, I had a friend who did the program a few years back and he explained to me that it didn’t have to be the Judeo-Christian God, necessarily. It can be Allah, Buddha, and even that doorknob over there (he said, pointing to a doorknob). The point was that the power to help was external to yourself and not something that could merely be brought about with willpower alone.

How does that apply to the Republicans? Well, one great example is the phenomenon that I’m seeing that we’d only be doing better if Republicans-In-Name-Only would stop criticizing legit Republicans, then the party would be hunky dory… and therefore the best thing to do is to criticize those RINOs as hard as we can! Get them out of leadership! Get them out of the party! As if the House/Senate/Electoral Vote numbers were reversed.

What’s the old saw? If you’re in a hole, stop digging! Well, after you stop digging, look around and look at those numbers again. You’re going to need external help to get out of this hole.

Step three. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

Now, again, without getting into the whole Judeo-Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Doorknobist debate, I’d think that this would apply if the Republican Party said something like the following: “We turn our lives over to these principles rather than by resorting to the situational ethics where we can always, every time, find a good reason for abandoning principle.” In a nutshell, it shouldn’t be about oneself, but about how one lives as one’s principles dictate.

If you find that you are saying “reasonable people can disagree” about things important to the other people in your coalition but questioning the conservative credentials of those who ask for debate about the things important to you… well, look at those numbers above again.

Step four. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory. Ah, now this is where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it? Instead of saying “well, everyone else was worse than I was so it’s perfectly understandable that I made the unnamed mistakes that it’s plausible that I would have made in theory… anyway, there’s an election to win”, one needs to sit back and say “okay. I screwed up.” And more than the general “I screwed up”, one needs to say *HOW* one screwed up.

A small example would be the treatment of Joel Hefley (my old congressman… his INS liason helped me with the paperwork that would allow my wife to immigrate from Canada). He was the chair of the House Ethics Committee… and he got replaced by someone who was more of a loyalist because Hefley was “too independent”. This was a small mistake, surely… but there were others.

The big one that strikes me as exceptionally obvious is the treatment of Peter Fitzgerald. Peter Fitzgerald was the senator who held the seat recently held by Obama. He made a handful of principled (goodness, extremely principled… like, 99-1 principled) stances in the days following 9/11 and was told that he would not be supported in his re-election bid. The Republican Party had a young, up-and-comer who would surely be a star some day… Jack Ryan. That was quickly followed by Jack Ryan’s replacement: Alan Keyes. Well, Obama won the Senate Seat. Hey, maybe Obama would have beaten Fitzgerald easily, right? In a year where Republicans picked up seats in the House and Senate, right? When Bush beat Kerry by 3 points.

Now this shouldn’t be a “Republicans Can’t Do Anything Right!” screed but it does need to be a fearless moral inventory. It must be more than a token “yeah, everybody screws something up sometime” and it certainly cannot be a “you should see those other guys! They’re much worse!”

We’re talking about health and getting better. “Those other guys are a lot sicker than me!” ain’t gonna cut it. Perhaps you disagree with these choices of mine, sure. That’s reasonable. Come up with your own inventory.

If you can’t come up with anything that doesn’t involve pointing out the extenuating circumstances of any given action, then you have a problem.

Step five. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

I would say that the wrongs that I picked out fall under the category of “loved power more than loved principle”. If you think that the stuff that I picked out wasn’t indicative of anything wrong, particularly, that’s fair enough. What was the nature of the wrongs you came up with? If it was something like “didn’t throw out the Hefleys and Fitzgeralds out fast enough!”, well… that’s fair enough, I guess. I’d wonder if you are aware that you have a problem, though… and I’d point out the numbers from 2004 and the numbers from 2008 again.

Step six. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

This is a tough one. If you are not, in fact, ready to have these removed, it’s pretty certain that they won’t be. If you don’t even see them as defects of character in the first place (“I loved too much! Is that a crime???”), it’s 100% certain that they won’t be removed.

Do you want to be sick? Do you want to be well?

Step seven. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Well, we’re back to the whole Judeo-Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Doorknobist dilemma again. It’s possible to simplify this down to going to one’s principles and asking them to help you overcome where you have failed in the past. Also note that word “humbly”. It will come back to haunt us.

Step eight. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

This is where another pitfall may come down. “Sure, I may have hurt so-and-so… but he was an even bigger jerk!” “So-and-so asked for it.” So on and so forth. This isn’t about making a tally of cosmic justice and how you saw yourself as the best way to dispense it and, sure, you may have gotten a little bit out of control but you never hurt nobody who didn’t have it coming… but about being well. About no longer being sick.

I imagine that the list of persons harmed would be longer than merely Hefley and Fitzgerald in my cases… but those hurt by bad decisions made by the Republican Party and those who will be hurt by the even worse leadership that replaced the Republican Party that was replaced primarily because of all of the bad decisions it made.

Step nine. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Well, this is probably impossible, I admit. It’s not like Hefley or Fitzgerald is really helpable. It’s not like they can offer a position of leadership or anything… but it might be good to do something as small as say “yeah, that was a mistake.” It involves humility, of course. Again, if one’s first response is to say “there’s no way in hell that Hefley deserves so much as an ‘I’m’!” (or whomever happens to be on your list from 4 and 5), this can be a good indicator that you’re just going through the motions and this isn’t about being healthy but merely about winning elections.

If it’s not about the deeper principles (about being *healthy*), then why not just switch parties to become a Democrat? It’s not like it won’t help in the current climate. If it’s about more than that (the Principles), then… why wouldn’t you want to help those who have been harmed by mistakes?

Step ten. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Ah, this just keeps getting harder, doesn’t it? Instead of automatically pointing out how other people do bad things too or how circumstances totally dictated that we did the wrong thing or that admitting wrong is a political act and that there is not going to be any admission of wrong until everyone else admits wrong first…

Well. I’ll say it again. This isn’t about imposing some form of cosmic justice on the world (look at the House/Senate/Electoral Vote numbers again… how much imposition do you think you are really capable of putting out there?), it’s about becoming healthy. If, every time, when the slightest mistake is made, the automatic response is to say “we can’t give any ground on this, or else everyone will jump on it!!!”, well… the viewpoint that people will pick up is not “hey, that guy doesn’t do anything wrong” but “dang, he can’t even drop a pencil on the floor without explaining the theory of gravity and he’ll be dead in the cold, cold ground before apologizing for the way that the good lord above made the world so that pencils would fall when dropped!”

A “whoops, sorry, I got clumsy” would be far, far more appropriate and far better received.

It’s also far healthier.

Step eleven. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.

It comes back to the principles. Republicans need to constantly be meditating on the principles. What does it mean to be conservative? What does it mean to be Republican? It’s far too easy to see that, hey, things are picking up again AND THAT MEANS I CAN FALL BACK INTO MY OLD HABITS!!! That’s not healthy.

And, finally, Step twelve. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Well, as you may or may not know, I am a Libertarian and not a Republican. I am mostly Libertarian because of my embracing of, for lack of a better term, God as I understand him (call me a doorknobist, if you must). Now while I know that you guys will not reach the same conclusions that I have, I know unhealthy when I see it.

The Republican Party is *NOT* healthy. If it’s to get better, it had better get to following these steps. The crazy thing is that even though I disagree mightily with the Republicans, I can see that following these steps will result in a healthier Republican Party… and one that will win more elections. But it’s not about winning more elections. The pendulum swings, after all. It’s about being healthy.

Like with Napoleon in the beginning of this essay (remember him?), it seems that the Republican party is spending more time pointing fingers at the external forces behind the Republican Party’s failure rather than noticing that it is cut off from God as it understands Him. Instead it just seems to be pacing back and forth explaining how it didn’t do anything wrong, it’s not doing anything wrong, and if anyone says that it’s doing anything wrong, it’s part of the problem.

Not only will that not result in not winning elections…

It’s Not Healthy.

[originally published at The Next Right]

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36 thoughts on “12 Steps to a Healthy Republican Party

  1. Nice post, Jaybird, but…..I think the bigger problem is that the Republican party is just plain obsolete.
    Consider Poulos’ post on the “Culture War”.
    Especially you should read the comments….this one–

    I’m with Nietzsche. He was just observing what had become inarguable. Not that God was dead, but that He wasn’t to be found in cultural/civilizational forms out there. Sure the forms exist, but with a few exceptions these forms have as much relevancy to the spirit that once animated them as the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade has to the spirit St. Patrick. They are dead forms animated by the undead energies of nostalgia, jingoism, and other vulgar passions. Conservatives simply don’t want to face up to this truth, and keep fighting this battle for a zombie culture, and in doing so are looking for love in all the wrong places–out there in the mainstream culture. They are fighting for the preservation of cultural forms that were shaped by spiritual cultural energies that simply no longer exist.

    There is no culture war…..there is only an evolutionary event, like an ice age or the extinction event at the K-T boundary. Your 12step program is like trying to battle glacial flow with pitchforks and torches.

    The death of the GOP will enable the rise of a new party with viable memes and a broader demographic appeal.
    Death rocks and evolution rolls.

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    • See, when I read that, I see “Permanent Democratic Majority”.

      And you know what that reminds me of? When the Republicans were cackling about “Permanent Republican Majority”.

      Yes, yes. I know. It’s different this time.

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    • I am afraid you may be right. Others have pointed out the deepest cotnradiction in Republican/ conservative platform, that is, the twin pillars of strong defense, and fiscal austerity. (I know these have not been faithfully followed- but they ARE the platform).
      That these two were incompatible was a ignored as long as there was a Cold War to be fought- the necessity of that outweighed any other concern.
      But now it is inescapable; we cannot have an adventurous foreign policy and balance the budget. So the conservative movement will have to make some very painful choices, or split into Wilsonian liberalists versus Jeffersonian small isolationists.
      The other split between social conservatives and libertarians is equally deep; social conservatism leads inevitably to government intrustion into private lives.
      Finally, the split between nativists and anti-immigrationists; oddly enough, I believe this will heal itself, as demographics make the anti-immigrants obsolete. But not without much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

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      • At Redstate, one of the things that I regularly noticed was something that I alluded to in the essay was the whole shift between absolute principle and “reasonable people can disagree”.

        When the topic was abortion, for example, there wasn’t a whole lot of room within conservativism proper that allowed for the wanton slaughter of innocent fetii. When Libertarian Libertines would show up and say that they weren’t comfortable with the government having enough power to investigate such things there were usually two responses (granted, given by two different groups of people):

        1) No one is suggesting that the government have the power to punish or otherwise harass troubled women
        2) Besides, we have an existing model in Child Protective Services

        So when I would ask something like “let’s say I hear my neighbor’s daughter is considering getting an abortion, what ought I do?”, the response was something like “what would you do if you heard that your neighbor’s daughter was beating her children?” Fair enough.

        So I would then ask about calling Fetus Protective Services and they could show up at the house… and then what? Person #2 would talk about interviewing the potential mother/murderer and person #1 would yell that no one is talking about instituting a Fetus Protective Services but Libertarian Libertines who are obviously using it as a rhetorical device to change the subject. They only want doctors investigated and, if a doctor is performing abortions, have their licenses removed and maybe criminal charges.

        I’m rambling. Where was I? Oh, yes. Anyway, the general debate when it came to abortion was somewhere on the continuum between whether there should be exceptions for rape/incest/mother’s life in danger or whether there should only be exceptions for the mother’s life in danger or whether we should have any exceptions at all.

        Those were, more or less, the outer boundaries for conservative discussion on abortion.

        When it came to fiscal conservativism, however, “Reasonable People Can Disagree.” When one of the Libertarian Libertines started screaming about the bailouts, it was pointed out (seriously!) that there are people hurting out there (children!). The bailouts could save jobs and save families. While the strict fiscally conservative view was, they supposed, something that someone in theory could support, surely it must be understood that these circumstances were extraordinary, there could be a worldwide fiscal meltdown, it’s a confidence crisis, reasonable people can disagree.

        Someone who thinks that abortion ought remain legal is someone who supports the wholesale slaughter of unborn infants. Someone who thinks that failing companies ought not be bailed out by the government is someone who might, in theory, have a principled position but reasonable people can disagree.

        Anyway, after 8 years of Bush being in charge, you’d think that someone might have noticed that the official position of being pro-life (but not doing anything about it) and being Reasonable People Can Disagree on fiscal conservativism resulted in fiscal conservatives saying something to the effect of “if there is no party that will represent me when it comes to my most important issue, perhaps I ought vote for my second most important issue instead” and there was no guarantee that the second most important issue was necessarily one best represented by the Republican Party.

        I reckon that similar will happen with the Democrats. Once a particular interest group gets told enough times that reasonable people can disagree about stupid shit like the shit that stupid people care about but MY ISSUE IS ONE THAT REQUIRES PURE PRINCIPLE (CHILDREN ARE DYING!), well… they may say “okay, I’ll vote for my second most important issue.”

        And there is no guarantee that the democrats will be the party that will best represent that second most important issue.

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  2. “To be sure, much of the complaining has taken the form of something like ‘if only you had been more like me, you would have succeeded. Since you were more like you, of course you failed.'”

    I don’t know. It seems to me that there are plenty of elitist conservatives/Republicans who readily admit that their views are well outside the mainstream. Talk to comeone from Cato, or someone like John Derbyshire. They realize that their positions are electoral losers. Unversal healthcare is something people want. Etc.

    Beyond that, I again point to the fact that the GOP are victims of their own success. Talk about governing “seriously.” And look at some of the things people like Yglesias are saying about the legislative proces. The GOP is very good at policing its ranks. If you are a committee chair, and you want to stay the chair, you play ball. Democrats are kind of wishing they did things that way right now.

    You can point to the current legislative juggernaut and say, the Democrats have it right. Well, they have it right right now. But sooner or later they are going to bash some heads, get things done, alienate certain folks, and lose enough member of their governing coalition.

    So which conservative coalition will rise to take advantage? That’s impossible to say. It depends on which issues the Dems decide to champion. If they push healthcare, it’s likely that the deficit will grow. Meaining deficit hawks in the GOP will have an opportunity. Etc.

    My prescription for the GOP is… less soul searching. More sitting around and waiting for the Democrats to collapse from their own success. For instance, let’s say all this soul searching leads the GOP to put deficit hawks in charge of their coalition. But in the intervening years, the economy goes gangbusters and the deficit shrinks despite new spending. That means more wilderness.

    Again. Just sit around and wait for the Democrats to screw up. It’s going to happen.

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    • The pendulum will swing back, that’s for sure.

      And if the Republican party doesn’t understand why it swung back, it’ll swing again.

      There needs to be more of a foundation than “not the Democrats” underneath.

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  3. “There needs to be more of a foundation than ‘not the Democrats’ underneath.”

    I disagree. I think “no the Democrats” will be a perfectly reasonable platform. In time. We can look at all the things the Democrats did since 2004. Sure, they coalesced around things like healthcare. But they never said what “healthcare” meant, specifically. Other than healthcare should be better and more people should be insured, there was basically nothing. We are seeing that now. Public option? Mandates? We stil don’t know. Being specific is foolish. The winning thing to do is sit around, see what the other side screws up or fails to address, and hammering that at election time.

    If Obama’s foreign policy becomes a disaster, you paint your party as a solution to that problem. If the economy is a disaster, you talk about that. Even if you really don’t have any solutions. See Obama and Guantanamo Bay. His position on that is… “at least I am not George Bush.” And it worked magnificently. What’s the Obama take on Iraq and Afghanistant? So far, it appears to be, “Hey, at least Dick Cheney isn’t around anymore.” Again, hugely successful.

    Seriously. We keep talking about how the GOP has to come up with these grand ideas and grand coalitions. Did the Democrats do that? Other than really vague no-brainers like “wouldn’t it be great if healthcare was really cheap and we all got all of it we wanted and didn’t have to pay any more taxes to get it,” what did they offer from 2004-2008?

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    • Well, from 2004 until 2006, they sat down and did some serious soul-searching. This resulted in the Republicans doing most of the talking.

      When the Republicans were doing most of the talking, everyone noticed how awful the Republicans were and voted in the Democrats. The Republicans responded by doubling down and, eventually, booting the Fiscal Conservatives out of the tent entirely. This resulted in 2008.

      Now the Democrats are talking the loudest.

      This will result in the Republicans winning back (some) seats. Of course it will.

      But the other guys losing the election is a different beast than one’s guys actually winning it (as the Republicans didn’t win in 2004 as much as the Democrats lost. The Republicans not only lost in 2008, but the Democrats won). I’m not talking about not losing elections.

      I’m talking about winning them.

      But, hell, if the Republicans don’t want to follow the advice, it ain’t no skin off my nose. I’m sure that the pendulum will swing and they’ll call that a mandate.

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      • No. The pendulum isn’t swinging back, except in an extremely damped arc. Consider abortion. The next shot teh Pro-Life have at changing the composition of the Supremes is post 2016. By then we will be buying Bene Tleilax human ectogenisis machines from the Japanese….they have been doing goat embryos to fullterm for the last 10 years. In 5 more years we will have the last few codons for synthetic life.
        The advance of science and technology and the evolution of culture and electoral demographics have simply rendered huge chunks of white christian conservatism obsolete…. not to mention the abject and obvious FAIL of neocon interventionism.
        You need a renaissance, a rebirth.
        And creative destruction is how it will have to happen.

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  4. They re-won the White House with a majority vote and that is something that people hadn’t seen since 1988.

    1984? At any rate, Clinton won by a much larger margin in 1996 (8.5% to Bush’s 2.4%). He didn’t earn a majority (getting a mere 49.2% of the popular vote) because of Perot’s 8.4%. Add a credible thrid-party candidate to the mix in 2004, and Bush isn’t close to 50%.

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  5. “Well, from 2004 until 2006, they sat down and did some serious soul-searching.”

    What kind of soul searching? What did they find? Did they develop a foreign policy that would have then shut down Gitmo, pull out of Iraq, or stop doubling down in Afghanistan? Did the soul-searching lead to a consensus on the need for single-payer, or even a government option?

    Instead, it seems to have generated just enough support to get us a completely unsustainable set of policies. Such as healthcare for everyone, but no more taxes on actuakl people. Foreign policy that is completely indistinguishable from what we had before. Etc. Etc.

    Seriously. What was the grand, intellectual and policy pay-off from all this soul-searching? How is the current administration’s set of policies any different from the set of proposals we would have gotten without the soul-searching?

    What I see is a party that won an election. Nothing more. All the stuff about change, etc. seems more like campaign rhetoric. Or am I missing something?

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    • They didn’t find anything, really. The point was that the Republicans were the only ones stomping around (and crowing about a permanent Republican Majority).

      Once the Democrats stopped yelling “look at me!”, the focus shifted back to the Republicans and the American people did not like what they saw. They threw the bums out.

      In 2008, there was actually someone to vote *FOR* on the Democratic side (rather than merely voting against Dubya) and, what do you know? The Democrats won and won hard.

      If the Republicans don’t give people a reason to vote *FOR* them, the pendulum will swing back like it did in 2006… but if they give a reason to vote *FOR* Republicans, it will swing like it did in 2008.

      The question becomes “will this happen in 2016?” vs. “will this happen in 2020?”

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  6. Damn. System just ate my comment. But here it is in a nutshell:

    In what sense in Obama someone to vote FOR? When did that introspection happen? Seems to me that the Democrats were poised to elect Hilary Clinton until the last minute. That’s introspection? That’s change? That’s soul searching?

    I am serious: When did the soul-searching happen? Was it at a conference? A series of op-eds?

    I think what we got was a gregarious guy who made “throw the buns out” sound pretty. You seem convinced that he’s proof of a grand moment of introspection. So seriously. What is he FOR?

    Change.

    Right. Not the bums. Me.

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  7. “You watched the last election. Did you not notice the difference in the dynamic between McCain and Obama? People were excited to vote *FOR* Obama.”

    Right. I say it’s because he found a prettier way to say “throw the bums out.” You say it’s because his party engaged in serious soul-searching which led to a positive agenda. I say rhetoric. You say substance.

    Ten months into his administration, who’s assessment seems closer to the mark?

    To your answer, I preemptively reply: Gitmo, Afghanistan, Iraq, no new taxes on anyone making more than $250,000 a year, etc.

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    • I see a difference between “voting for someone” and “voting someone out”.

      The dynamic that existed with Obama was that people were excited to be voting for him while, say, 2004 had the dynamic of people excited to be voting against Bush.

      Do you disagree?

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    • “You say it’s because his party engaged in serious soul-searching which led to a positive agenda.”

      Where have I ever said that?

      I said that they engaged in soul-searching which resulted in them shutting the hell up. This changed the focus on the Democrats to the focus on the Republicans and the Republicans became less awful than the Democrats by virtue of NOTHING MORE than the fact that the Democrats were QUIET.

      Then, after 2006, the Republicans (having learned nothing) were still awful… and Obama came out and created a dynamic where people wanted to vote *FOR* him rather than merely against McCain/Bush.

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  8. I am a little confused, I guess. If the Democrats were “quiet,” this would seem to imply some degree of absence from the political scene. Some degree of… not being there. Or not being heard. A void, if you will.Which resulted in a guy being there to vote FOR?

    Seems to me that if you are quiet, you are obviously following a strategy of “not the other guy.” I don’t think you can have it both ways.

    Or are you saying that the strategy shifted? In 2006, it was throw the bums out, but later, it became, “Vote FOR this guy who you love”?

    More broadly when did this ingenious strategy take hold? Again, Clinton was the presumptive nominee pretty far into the race.

    Finally, HOW did Obama create this desire to vote FOR him? Was it policies? I can’t recall that he mentioned many. I seem to recall that his whole campaign was based on CHANGE. Even rhetorically, he based his chances on, “What the other guys were doing was wrong. I am not those guys. Vote for me to get less of what those guys were doing.” That’s what change means, right? In what sense is this “creating a dynamic in which people wanted to vote for him”?

    From what I can tell, policy wise. what Obama is promoting is far LESS ambitious than what Clinton proposed in 1994. So it doesn’t seem like this could be the change people were looking for. Instead, I do recall a ton pf people being angry over Iraq, civil rights, a tanking economy, etc. And I recall that message falling kind of flat when put out there by tired old also-rans like Candidate Biden. Obama made it sound better. So is the message, “nominate a good speaker”?

    Be that as it may, fine. Let’s assume what the right needs is introspection and soul-searching. Seeing that the Democrats went through that already, we have identified it and found it worth emulating… what’s it mean? Let’s say tomorrow I want to search my soul. Do I write a policy paper for Heritage? Have a conference? Invite David Frum to lunch? What are the specific elements of the sould searching process?

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    • “If the Democrats were “quiet,” this would seem to imply some degree of absence from the political scene. Some degree of… not being there.”

      It’s not that they weren’t there as much as they weren’t there as much as the Republicans *WERE* there.

      Here, let me show you:
      2004: 55 Senators. 231 Representatives.

      “In 2006, it was throw the bums out, but later, it became, “Vote FOR this guy who you love”?”

      In 2006, it was “vote against the Republicans!!!”
      In 2008, it was “vote *FOR* Obama!”

      Do you disagree that this was the dynamic that took place? I base these statements on my observation of the elections.

      If you disagree that these are the dynamics that took place, could you instead explain the dynamic that you think took place? (Here’s one you could use: Howard Dean’s brilliant strategy paid off leaving the Republicans flat-footed.)

      “More broadly when did this ingenious strategy take hold?”

      You misunderstand. I am not saying that this was the result of a deliberate strategy on the part of the Democrats.

      I am saying that the democrats, as a result of the soul-searching after losing in 2004, spent more time arguing among themselves (“Kerry sucked!” “No, Howard Dean sucked!”) than they did bringing it to Bush and/or the American People. As a result, the Republicans were able to engage in a lot of high-profile stuff (including, of course, stuff like Terri Schiavo and Bill Frist passing laws that benefitted the clients of Jack Abramoff) that were owned pretty fully by the Republicans. After the Republicans finished their nuttery, the Democrats looked good by comparison. Why? Because they were relatively quiet compared to the Republicans.

      If you want to argue that the Democrats were, in fact, just as loud as the Republicans and I am completely misunderstanding the dynamics that existed between 2004 and 2006, please give your theory of the dynamics that were going on. (Here’s one you could use: the liberal media ganged up on the Republicans and the gullible sheeple did like their masters ordered.)

      “HOW did Obama create this desire to vote FOR him?”

      I don’t care. I am noting that the desire to vote *FOR* him (as opposed to merely *AGAINST* McCain) was there.

      Do you disagree that it was there?

      “Let’s say tomorrow I want to search my soul. Do I write a policy paper for Heritage? Have a conference? Invite David Frum to lunch? What are the specific elements of the sould searching process?”

      If only someone would write an essay with, like, a dozen steps that people might take!!!

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  9. It’s a good prescription. But if the Republicans followed it, would you join them? Is “reasonable people can disagree” on matters of social conservatism sufficient for you?

    I think it would strengthen the Republican coalition if everyone could agree to some extent that they screwed up, at minimum, on the execution of their policies. If defense hawks could say “yes, we went into Iraq blind and should have considered the repercussions more”, even if they still think the war was a good idea. If social conservatives could admit that the uses of executive power for Terri Schiavo probably hurt their case, if Christians would admit that scorched earth politics don’t line up with what their faith calls for. If fiscal conservatives noted that lowering taxes somehow failed to correspondingly lower spending. Or pick their own issues where things went off the rails if they don’t agree with my picks. But it comes down to this: Republicans did a crummy job of governing. How can they do better?

    I’d also disagree with all the people above who are saying Obama didn’t have policies. His initial ones in the primary focused on what Democrats disagreed about internally, notably foreign policy and how hawkish they needed to be. The message people liked was that Democrats could advocate what they actually considered to be the best ideas – they didn’t have to base their proposals on fear of what Republicans would say. By combining that with the recognition that Republicans weren’t all evil and conservatives could have good ideas, he could run simultaneously to the left of Hillary (end the Iraq War, close Gitmo) and to her right (bipartisanship, no health care mandates). And the Presidential election campaign was all about policy – cap and trade, health care reform, education reform, tax cuts for the middle class and not for the rich.

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    • Please understand. I am a crazy third-party voter.

      I understand the position of the pro-lifers… I merely disagree when it comes to the hill that they have chosen to die upon.

      I will be dead in the cold, cold ground before I vote Republican. (Notable exception: Joel Hefley, whose INS liason helped me with the fiance visa for my wife to come here to the US. I figure that he earned it.)

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      • I must have seen a different one. At least on Obama’s side, I heard a lot of talk about green jobs, health-care reform, tax cuts for “90% of Americans [or thereabouts],” greater investment in education, measures to fix the economy (most of which were beyond my comprehension), cap and trade, and the need for greater engagement with other nations.

        But then, I was following the Atlantic, various blogs, and speech transcripts; US news channels may have showed something more like the election you saw.

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  10. “In 2006, it was vote against the Republicans!!! In 2008, it was vote *FOR* Obama! Do you disagree that this was the dynamic that took place? I base these statements on my observation of the elections. If you disagree that these are the dynamics that took place, could you instead explain the dynamic that you think took place?”

    Yes, I disagree. I think it was “vote against Republicans” in both elections. Perhaps less obviously so in the second one, because Bus wasn’t running. But if you don;t think the election was a referendum on the previous 10 years… why the “change” rhetoric?

    You seem to think we were voting FOR something. For what? What did you see as the positive platform on which he was running? His record? What was his record? How would we KNOW what we were getting?

    We will clearly have to agree to disagree. But I see the whole thing as an exercise in “throw the bums out.” Which is why it wasn’t just Bush who got tossed. It was the bums. Plural. Republicans, writ large. Because they sucked.

    I think the lesson to learn from this is: Sit around. Wait for them to screw up. Craft a rhetoric and some policy initiatives that respond accordingly. But mostly rhetoric.

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    • There are (see above) folks who are content with just letting the pendulum swing back. If there is no underlying principle beneath a thin veneer of “not the democrats”, they won’t be able to accomplish much of anything and, to an alien race, they’ll be indistinguishable from the party before.

      The Republicans, under Bush, really betrayed a lot of principles that they later demonstrated to have not held. Their followers, who did and do hold those principles, either plugged their noses and voted for McCain anyway, plugged their noses and voted for Obama, shrugged and looked at their 2nd and 3rd most important issues (or 4th or 5th or 6th) and voted for the guy they thought would be best for that, or they shrugged and stayed home.

      Here’s the wacky thing: The Republicans whose principles most closely aligned them with Bush (vigorous foreign policy hawks) are not that disappointed with Obama.

      That ought to give the Obamites pause.

      But, please understand, I am a crazy 3rd party voter so I probably lack necessary perspective on this.

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