March 31, 2005

Political Party Talk

In case you missed...check out these op-eds on the future of America's two major political parties from a couple of our most distinguished former Senators on tap at the NYT today. Bill Bradley, offering advice to the Democrats, explains why "charisma didn't translate into structure." And John Danforth is worried about the ramifications of the Schiavo affair for the Republican party. I think he is guilty of some hyperbole when he writes: "(b)y a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians." But I wholeheartedly agree with him when he writes:

During the 18 years I served in the Senate, Republicans often disagreed with each other. But there was much that held us together. We believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law, not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were principles shared by virtually all Republicans.

I believe in all these principles. We want government kept small; we want no going forward Warren-style courts; we want strong defense and robust foreign policy (a mix, really, of realpolitik with some moral idealist Reaganite/Bush muscle thrown in); we want protectionism kept to a minimum, we want a strong private sector (albeit one that is soberly regulated). But we, at least Republicans that share B.D.'s worldview, we don't want the Bill Frists and Tom DeLays hijacking the party with sensationalist grandstanding about some supposed "culture of life." Religion is important, to be sure. And moral values matter too. But some of the chest-beating about stem cell research or the Schiavo case is a step too far. Let's keep in mind too, in all of this, that a majority of Americans, repeated polling data shows, would prefer not to be kept alive if they were in a persistent vegetative state. Which Schiavo, it bears repeating yet again, has been in for some 15 years.

This aside, the courts have spoken. Shall we usurp the Constitution, whenever we find the results unappealing? Is this the voice of conservatism? Of course not. It's more Robespierre than Burke. No, it is time to move on from this horrific media circus and for the party to mollify some of its evangelical fervor. I'm no naif, and I well realize that keeping activist Christians supportive of the party is critical. But that doesn't mean we have to turn the keys over to them--that they have carte blanche to hijack the party's agenda. Ultimately, the Republican party must remain a great centrist party grounded in secularism--not one consumed by religiosity. No, I don't think a theocratic Republican party rife with American Ayatollahs is nigh. As I said, I think Danforth is guilty of some hyperbole. But these agenda-ridden Christian conservative media spectacles are becoming more and more frequent, aren't they? And the eager-to-please-blow-dried Santorums and Frists leave me wholly unimpressed. I prefer the Hagels, McCains, Guilianis; and, yes, just maybe, Arnold himself. Those are the kinds of Republicans B.D. is prepared to support going forward. May they prevail! And may a schism be averted through some sanity. Sanity, might I mention, like that Jeb Bush is currently displaying in Florida.

Posted by Gregory at March 31, 2005 01:35 AM | TrackBack (18)

BD, your ship has sailed. Your moderate Republicans are irrelevant in today's GOP.

I'm originally from Argentina, and thus very wary of big government. There is NOTHING that attracts me to today's Republican Party.

The GOP of the 50's? Yeah, sure. Reagan's party? Some.

But this is bad, BD. This is not just a sideshow. This is IT.

Waky, waky, BD...

Posted by: AA at March 31, 2005 02:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Shall we usurp the Constitution, whenever we find the results unappealing?"

We'd need to at least change the Constitution in order for Arnie to run for president. But I do like what he's doing as governor.

Posted by: KCM at March 31, 2005 02:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I say this all over the place, so I might as well repeat it here. In a two-party system, the ideals of small-government and fiscal conservativism are doomed to be abandoned to the minority party.

It is against the interest of Republicans to shrink the size and influence of government when they are the ones controlling it (especially since they are likely to be consolidating their control of it in the foreseeable future).

Posted by: fling93 at March 31, 2005 03:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Sanity, might I mention, like that Jeb Bush is currently displaying in Florida."

Except that he got himself into this mess by getting WAY, WAY, too involved, stoking the fires and giving the folks at Pinellas a massive case of pseudo-religious blue balls. He started getting sane right around the time he read the poll numbers, I'd wager. Better to not have messed with a well-functioning court system from the getgo.

Posted by: praktike at March 31, 2005 03:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

On Jeb Bush's sanity:

Are you talking about the fact that he ordered state troopers to swoop into the hospice and take Terri Schiavo out only to nix the order when he learned that local police would enforce the judge's order which could have precipitated a nasty little showdown?

Sanity? Not exactly, but at least he backed down in the face of resistance and, as praktike mentioned, increasingly oppositional polling data. But don't kid yourself, Jeb seized this issue to flesh out his religious right bona fides, and lapdog's like Adam Nagourney were all over it with articles with ledes like:

"In a Polarizing Case, Jeb Bush Cements His Political Stature"

Money quotes:

"Several associates noted that he has been devoutly religious longer than President Bush, and even critics said his efforts--prodding the Florida Legislature and the courts and defying much of the electorate--were rooted in a deep-seated opposition to abortion and euthanasia rather than in political positioning."

"At a time when many of the most frequently mentioned possibilities to lead the party are moderates like John McCain and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the governor now certainly has a place, if he wants it, as a prime contender in what is shaping up as a fight to represent a conservative wing that has proved increasingly dominant."

"He has strongly identified himself with the Christian conservative movement," said Matthew Corrigan, a political science professor at the University of North Florida. "If the Republican Party is looking for someone with good ties with the Christian conservative movement, he is the one who is going to have them."

Oh, and my money is he wants it. Despite claims to the opposite, I would be willing to bet that bottle of scotch that Jeb runs for POTUS in 2008. Any interest Greg?

If anyone cares to peruse Nagourney's extended love letter, here's the link:

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 31, 2005 02:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What you say may be true, Greg, but as Hamlet put it, when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw, and I know that injustice committed under the cover of law remains injustice. A woman died today for no other reason than her continued existence was irksome. When I went to school one of the things I learned was that in the United States my right to life was unalienable, that it was mine by virtue of my being a human being, and that I could not be deprived of my rights without due process of law. Apparently that is no longer the case.

Posted by: akaky at March 31, 2005 06:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, Terri Schiavo got plenty of due process, and her wishes as determined according to a "clear and convincing" standard of evidence and the law of the State of Florida were carried out.

Posted by: praktike at March 31, 2005 06:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Terri Schiavo got more due process than almost anyone in the history of this nation. Never before has Congress passed, and the President signed, a law specifically sending a settled legal case involving one individual for de novo review by the Federal bench.

From state, to federal, to the Supreme Court, Terri Shiavo's status was mulled over and decided. The right to life is unalienable, but it is not unqualified. Capital punishment is an affront to the unalienable right to life, and in cases of vegetative states and neurological brain death, states allow family members to decide the fate of loved ones. Yes, sometimes family members differ on the course of action to be taken in the absence of a living will, and so the courts must make tough decisions.

A decision was made in this case, and then appealed in every conceivable forum - even new unprecedented forums previously unknown. To say that due process wasn't applied is to show willful blindness to the overwhelming evidence.

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 31, 2005 08:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Then in 1988, when we won with the Bush senior campaign and carried the highest total of evangelical votes ever in American history, we lost as we always do -- the Republicans -- we lost the Jewish vote and the Hispanic vote and all those votes. We lost the Catholic vote. We were the first modern presidency to win an election and it was a landslide and not win the Catholic vote. It was barely, but we lost the Catholic vote.

How did we do it? We carried 82 percent or 83 percent of the evangelical vote. I remember when it was all over-- this was one of the reasons I got a job in the White House -- but I remember when it was all over, there was great shock from me and others saying, "Whoa, this is unhealthy." We immediately began going after the Catholic vote.

While at the same time, we were frightened by the fact that we lost all these votes and still won the White House. The message did come home. My God, you can win the White House with nothing but evangelicals if you can get enough of them, if you get them all, and they're a huge number. ...

The Jesus Factor

Social Democrats, USA
Copyright: 1996, SD, USA

Kristol described the current Republican coalition as consisting primarily of two main strains: economic and social conservatives. The economic conservatives are anti-state and the social conservatives are anti-liberal who view liberalism "as corroding and subverting the virtues that they believe must be the bedrock of decent society." He believes that the differences between the economic conservatives and the social conservatives produce "tensions" between the two groups. Kristol's long range view is that the social conservatives represent "an authentic mass movement that gathers strength with every passing year."

Splitting the Republican Coalition

This leads to the issue of the role of the state. Neocons do not like the concentration of services in the welfare state and are happy to study alternative ways of delivering these services. But they are impatient with the Hayekian notion that we are on "the road to serfdom." Neocons do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable. Because they tend to be more interested in history than economics or sociology, they know that the 19th-century idea, so neatly propounded by Herbert Spencer in his "The Man Versus the State," was a historical eccentricity. People have always preferred strong government to weak government, although they certainly have no liking for anything that smacks of overly intrusive government. Neocons feel at home in today's America to a degree that more traditional conservatives do not. Though they find much to be critical about, they tend to seek intellectual guidance in the democratic wisdom of Tocqueville, rather than in the Tory nostalgia of, say, Russell Kirk.

The Neoconservative Persuasion

Posted by: NeoDude at March 31, 2005 09:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Schisms in the Republican Party have come and gone before. I can think of at least eight instances that might have been so characterized since 1865, and I'm probably missing a couple.

Division in the GOP is of concern to partisans now because the incumbent President depends almost entirely on a unified Republican Party to get anything done; because he is unlikely to end his administration with popular standing high enough to hand off the Presidency to a Republican successor, as Roosevelt, Coolidge and Reagan did in the last century and Eisenhower almost did; and because Congressional districts have been drawn across the country so that the only way a Republican incumbent can lose is if he is unseated in a primary. None of these circumstances is entirely without precedent.

It's easy enough for me to be blase' about the risk of the GOP foundering on divisions over religion or other issues -- in the pivotal years of 1988 and 2000 I supported the Republican Presidential candidates who lost, and most of the Republican Congressional leaders I admired have long since retired. Republicans who get their living by the party are understandably more anxious. But depending on how one feels about social issues the Schiavo controversy offers a clue as to how to bypass dissension in this area -- while the leadership of major evangelical groups were strongly in favor on Congressional intervention their rank and file were largely opposed to it.

I can't speak for John Danforth, an old man without much fight left in him, but the way I see it there's no profit in looking on religious lobbies, or any others, as indivisible forces that can only be defied or surrendered to and only on the terms set by their leadership. Every successful Republican President has instead manipulated his party's constituent interest groups, an example talented Republicans at lower levels of government could profit from.

Posted by: Zathras at April 1, 2005 02:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As attractive as it might appear to avoid social issues and religion, it would be folly.

Society is under assault by corrosive dynamics that are in part a byproduct of economic growth. Republicans are not simply for growth, they are for growth that is responsible. Growth at the price of a corrupt society is a price that many wil not pay. That number is the difference between winning and losing elections.

Take your pick.

Posted by: Paul Deignan at April 4, 2005 03:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


BTW, if you check your constitution, you will find that it requires indictment by a grand jury (among other things) to have one's life denied by the government (which it was specifically in the Schiavo case--check the court record).

There is also a notion about being able to confront your accusers and having a jury by peers (also in following the law as written). Strictly speaking, this is what the framers meant by due process--not just a long running series of corrupt decisions by petty tyrants and assorted crooks.

Posted by: Paul Deignan at April 4, 2005 03:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


As an attorney, I am somewhat well versed in the Constitution and due process jurisprudence, but thanks for the reminder regardless. Now, saying that something like the state allowing the husband to be the arbiter of his wife's wishes, absent a living will, to remove a feeding tube while she is in a vegetative state is akin to the state taking one's life as a criminal punishment does not make it so.

Similarly, claiming that Schiavo was on trial for a crime, and therefore had the right to confront her accusers does not make it so. Ditto the claim about the jury by peers.

The short answer is that your analysis is squeezing facts into a box they don't belong. The due process argument is thin, weak, and doesn't pass the laugh test. Courts have decided issues related to the absence of living wills for many years, and never have they considered them criminal proceedings against the infirmed. There is a good reason why the state, federal and even the Supreme Court rejected such spurious legal reasoning in this case.

Suggesting that you know the framers' intentions in the realm of living wills and removal of feeding tubes is a stretch at the least.

And don't you think calling the full spectrum of our judiciary corrupt tyrants and crooks is a bit heavy on the hyperbole? It severely detracts from the strength of your arguments and suggests an agenda above and beyond the issues of law and fact.

Posted by: Eric Martin at April 4, 2005 11:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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