tdawg11870's blog

The Tragedy of Rep. Joe Wilson

In many ways, what went wrong with Rep. Wilson is what's going wrong with the Republican Party as a whole.

Here is a man with a serious policy problem in mind.  While the health care bill of the moment (if it can be said that there really is one bill we're all talking about) specifically says that illegal immigrants will not be covered.  However, many have complained that the bill does not do enough to verify the citizenship of those who take advantage of its provisions.  So Obama didn't really "lie" so much as he is pushing a piece of legislation that may not live up to its stated goals.

That's a bad thing... a bad thing that Wilson did nothing to improve.

Over these last few months, we've been told repeatedly by our so-called opinion leaders that yelling, screaming and chanting at town hall meetings were simply expressions of a frustrated populace.  We have been told that to criticize the tone of the debate was to be disloyal to our own and that anyone who might do so is an out of touch cocktail-sipping Beltway elitist.  We have been told we are at war against this bill. 

All manner of bad behavior, which we would have roundly and rightly criticized had it come from Democrats or even our own children in different contexts, has been excused because Obamacare is some sort of bloodless war between real Americans and socialism, communism, fascism and any other nasty -ism a talk radio host can think up.

But we're not at war.  We're fighting a legislative battle.  If Rep. Wilson were actually concerned about covering illegal immigrants and not making a self-centered "brave stand" against Obama the person, he would have done what legislators have done since legislatures were invented: he would have proposed an amendment in exchange for the only thing of value he has - his vote. 

As a result, the immigrant issue is ignored because it's clear the goal here isn't to put a good verification regime in place or even convince anyone of the need for one.  The goal isn't even to stop the bill.  The goal is to belittle Obama.  How juvenile.

Of course, he can't really offer his vote because it has long been off the table, as have the votes of most Republicans in Congress.  So instead of trying to do his job and improve a bill that is likely to become law, Joe Wilson is reduced to the level of a common heckler, an annoyance.

For debasing himself, his constituents and his party, for trading his dignity and position of influence to be a mere clown, he's rewarded by so-called conservatives, who swamp his office and send him money?

This may just be where the anti-Obamacare movement jumped the shark.

We started with real concerns.  Concerns about cost.  Concerns about personal freedom and government inefficiency. And yes, concerns about illegal immigrants.  Entire books have been written about the conservative approach to improving health care.  Yet several months in, and we measure success not by the improvements we've made or the concessions we've extracted, but by how big a noise we can make on TV. 

Sure, it feels good to be heard, but wouldn't it be better to actually say something?

The taste of a previous generation


Let's face it: we've become obsessed with the youth vote.  During the last election, the media couldn't help but notice the difference between Obama rallies, with all their youthful exuberance, and McCain rallies, filled with wrinkled white faces.  Advertisers prefer young audiences, and so do political activists, who see the energy and malliable political beliefs of the 18 to 25 set and think about a gold mine that could cement a bloc voters for 50 years.  Conservatives saw Obama's success with social networking, saw an opportunity and glommed on to the next Internet trend to come down the pike: Twitter.

Nine and a half months later, we are witnessing one of the biggest outbursts of conservative sentiment in years, and it's coming mostly from people old enough to remember when people didn't have the internet on their cell phones, or cell phones at all for that matter.  I have expressed alarm over the methods and misinformation on display at these town halls, but at least they're out there, being activists.

The youth focus could pay off in the future, but survey after survey shows that political allegiances that last a lifetime are linked to who the President was when the voter turned 18.

Here's an idea that runs against the conventional wisdom: instead of trying to make a new generation of Republicans/conservatives from whole cloth using Twitter, blogs or whatever else, we should focus on winning the next two election cycles.  A Republican President, no matter how often he is trounced by members of his own party for bowing to reality and making comprimises, is a go-to leader that people can identify and follow.  Right now, we have Rush, Beck, a series of preening congressmen and a bunch of shouty seniors all vying for attention. Get a Republican president using the most reliable highest-turnout voters and the next generation will come to you.

This isn't to say that youth outreach isn't needed, just that other demographics need some outreach as well.  What would that look like?

1) Seniors do use the internet, but differently.  I have plenty of all-caps emails from elderly relatives to prove it.  While Facebook's fastest-growing demographic is older users, social networking lacks the intrinsic appeal it has to youth and probably won't play as big of a role.  Any outreach to the senior demographic has to rely on email and traditional web, not iPhone apps, Twitter and the other new tech goodies we all love.  The downside of this is that, let's face it, the vast majority of crazy email forwards from right and left, come from older emailers.  The successful campaign has to stay aware of the memes floating around in email and has to have a strategy to respond and keep supporters on message.

2) Taylor the playbook.  Defense and pork and all the rest are well and good, but the operative phrases for older outreach should be nostalgia and fear of change.  Fear of change is a good thing for people of all ages if the change is bad.  Targeted outreach should focus on what would be different, not how the same old Washington interests are running things.  However, as more than a few Tea Party signs and ill-tempered email forwards can attest, some of those fears regard racial issues.  Racial insensitivity doesn't just turn off minorities, it turns off white voters who don't want to be associated with racists.  More Mayberry, less Little Rock Central High School.

3) Treat seniors like the assets they are.  What do you call a person with tons of time on their hands, practical knowledge and a lifetime of discipline from the working world?  The ultimate activist organizing machine.  Today's sophisticated demographic targeting models require huge amounts of data to work.  Who will be a more reliable phone banker, the college student in yesterday's clothes nursing a hangover or the senior who has a predictable schedule?

4) Transition on boomer strategy. The Baby Boom generation is coming out of their peak earning years and heading into early retirement.  That means that tax arguments will become less effective and trimming government to pay for Social Security and Medicare will be top priorities.  Sadly, Social Security and Medicare are third rails, but concerns over those program's solvency can be used to argue for shrinking other programs.

What do you think?

The Fourth Rail of American politics, or why we must stay sane on healthcare

(Yes, I know that electric trains generally only have a powered third rail. I'm just extending the metaphor.)

One of the most tired phrases in politics is "Social Security is the third rail of American politics."  The problem is that it's true - Bush figured that out by squandering all of his political capital trying to reform it back in 2005.  It turns out that old people vote and they can be easily scared when the spectre of taking away their government checks is brought up.

We face a similar problem with health care.  It's obvious that the system doesn't work, and not just for people with pre-existing conditions and those who lose coverage.  It costs too much and isn't portable.  The lack of a true national market and the employer coverage model is a failure.  Too many people lack coverage and those people stick hospitals with huge bills for admissions that could have been solved with a visit to the family doctor, if they had one.

That being said, there are a lot of solutions better than Obamacare.  We've heard them before on this site and others and they aren't the point of this post.  The problem is that if Obamacare is defeated, no politician in their right minds will touch the healthcare issue with a 10-foot pole.  In persuing the worthy goal of defeating one specific bill, the issue has been demagogued to the point of insanity with threats of "death panels" (Sen. Isakson (R-GA), who put the provision nominally at issue, thinks this is nuts), "keep government away from my Medicare (note: WTF?) and all sorts of hyperbole about the continued "existence of the republic."

And don't think for a minute that every accusation about killing grannies and such lobbed against government can't be lobbed at private insurers.

So instead of a debate on what to do, we have people holding up pictures of Obama with a Hitler mustache shouting down elected officials before they can answer questions.  We have liberals convinced that people who oppose Obamacare are foam-at-the-mouth dittoheads and birthers organized by lobbyists.  And they're partially correct - many (not all) town hall shouters have spouted a lot of nonsense and many are making this personally about the president and anger at losing the last election.  It's embarrasing to people who have real issues with Obamacare who want to and make something work instead of yelling until they're red in the face.

The window for reasonable debate has closed by conservatives who want to make this Obama's Waterloo and liberals who are circling the wagons against a perceived onslaught of crazies.  The next reform proposal from either side will fall into the same pattern.  Eventually, everybody with power to do anything will throw their hands up.

Now healthcare is a "third rail," just like Social Security.  There are other, smaller, third rails to contend with.  Our primary system is rigged to prevent any serious talk about ethanol.  Serious agriculture subsidies reform is stymied because the committees that make ag policy are filled with congressmen from districts that feed off the USDA teat.  We can't have a serious discussion about Israel for long without someone getting called an anti-semite or a zionist likudnik stooge.

The problem?  You can't cut the size of government with all of these third rails in the way.  Everything has to be on the table.

Healthcare isn't just a sixth of the U.S. economy, it's a very big chunk of government spending.  The problem with the deficit hawkery I've heard recently is that it's small bore.  Spending freezes avoid the difficult choices about what exactly we want to cut.  Pork appropriations, non-military foreign aid and arts funding seem like ripe targets for popular cuts, but they make up a vanishingly small part of the budget and won't change the overall fiscal picture.  Survey after survey shows that people think government is too big, but they don't want to cut funding for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security education, defense or anything specific beyond the amorphous "waste."  The only real solution is to slow and reverse the growth of healthcare costs while still providing the care people demand, and we are in the process of blowing it for the next several decades by turning a deadly serious issue over to the loudest, angriest, least reasonable wing of the movement, destroying any hope of comprimise a la Wyden-Bennett.

In the zeal to stop a bad new policy, we have guaranteed decades of the bad old policy.  Good job guys.

Why the town hall strategy will fail unless we shape up

As it's the end of the week, perhaps we ought to take a minute to look in the mirror and assess how and what we're doing.

Every day, I read the political blogs and every day, I'm getting more dissolusioned by the disconnect between the triumphalism that accompmanies each town hall news report and the video that accompanies it.  Blame the MSM until the cows come home, but I know what I see, and it doesn't bode well for the country or the conservative movement.

Perhaps my perspective is different because I live in a blue state, but we are forgetting that we are trying to convince people, not belittle or scream at them.  As every Code Pink loonie who has ever snuck into a congressional hearing has shown, chanting is not an effective method of political persuasion, only a way to prove to the chanters themselves that they have Done Something.

We need to keep our eyes on the goal: persuasion.  Not showing our numbers, not thinking up the most clever signs, but persuasion.  The people who support Obamacare are our neighbors, however wrong they may be on this issue.  They jump our cars when our batteries die.  They go to happy hour with us after work.  They are members of our families.  They are not  "sheeple" or "Obamabots."  Throwing around names like those are direct insults to people you know and love, whether you know it or not.

Obamacare supporters are just like you and me, except they have different opinions on issues of public policy.  If you want to make a difference, persuade them.  Here are some keys to persuasion and having a debate with people who are just like you and me and not some formless menacing mass:

- Engagement: Ask them if they have healthcare and if they like the coverage they have (they probably do).  Ask them if their employer would drop coverage if a public plan were to be created.  Ask them about major elective surgeries they've had and find out how long you have to wait for them in Canada.

- "Democrats did it" is not an excuse for any behavior.  Didn't your mom teach you that something isn't right just because someone else did it?

- Tyranny, Communist and Nazi are words that need to be banished from your vocabulary on this issue.  Your friends and neighbors have a picture in their heads about what a tyranny or a communist dictatorship looks like, and it isn't America, with or without socialized medicine.  Trying to convince people that the USA will be a socialist tyranny if the bill passes in its current form will only make you look like a nutjob to the kind of people who aren't immersed in the debate on a daily basis because they aren't tuned into the hyperbole the politically active always toss around.

- Facts and Figures:  Bone up, make a cheat sheet.  Keep it in your wallet. The odds are that whomever you're debating/persuading won't have one.  Advantage, you.

- Know the opposing arguments. Check out Krugman and Ezra Klein.  Try to picture them in a room with you making those arguments and think about how you might respond.  It's hard to be a persuader when the only material you read reinforces what you already believe.  Consider yourself an advocate.

- Keep townhalling.  Be a good example.  Think of someone in your past who changed your mind on a big issue and act like them.

Most of all, realize that our opponents are Americans who want the best for themselves, their families and the country.  To behave otherwise is unfair, self-aggrandizing and accomplishes nothing but raising your blood pressure.

The friggin' SPAM on this site!

Somebody (Patrick? Jon?) really needs to get their act together and start policing spam.  This place is turning into Usenet and it is a very bad thing. 


On the one hand, we have places like RedState where the obnoxious and intellectually insecure Erik Erickson bans anyone who disagrees with him on minor points of what he considers to be conservative orthodoxy (ok, that was a gratuitous dig, but it's true).  On the other hand, we have open forums like this one, in which we trade putting up with the occasional troll for the freedom to express and debate real policy and strategy differences.


So let's get a hold of it.  If anti-spam moderators need to be created, so be it.  My patience with The Next Right is wearing thin.

What Palin's resignation says about the GOP

From the moment of her selection as the vice presidential nominee, we non-Alaskans heard a lot about what made Sarah Palin different from your average lower-48 woman, from moose-hunting on down the line - you know the story.   The "maverick" storyline, a variation on the McCain standard, worked very well in around the time of the convention, but her numbers began to sink for some of the vary same reasons that the GOP as a whole is in a ditch.  Here's why:

1. The obsession with media bias.  Palin went on and on about the "gotcha media" and the unfair shake she got in the press.  Yes, she was often treated dismissively and with the same sense of curiosity usually reserved for lost tribes of the Amazon.  Still, the media is what it is and whining about it won't change that.  In addition, she did no favors for herself, completely bombing one open-ended softball after another in the famous Katie Couric interview that, in retrospect, marked the beginning of the end of her political career.  And no, "what news sources do you read," is not a "gotcha" question.

If one theme has unified the right's blogs, magazines and radio shows, it has been an endless stream of media criticism.  Most of it is richly deserved.  But to paraphrase our former SecDef, "you go to war with the media you have, not the media you wish you had."

2. The victim mentality.  Am I the only person around here who thinks Palin milked the Letterman controversy for too long?  When something like that happens, you demand an apology (not two) and try to act like the better person.  Instead, there were several TV interviews over the course of a week.  Does she really think that the problem voters had with her is that she wasn't sufficiently sympathetic?  If liberals have showed us anything over the past half-century, it's that the victim mentality doesn't do much for the victims.  Same goes here, both for Palin and the party.

Every day, I read on this site and others about how the deck is always stacked against the right.  First, there is a horde of brainwashed Obamabots ready to follow Dear Leader's wishes (paranoid much?).  Then, we didn't lose by millions of votes across many formerly-red states, it was ACORN.  When it comes to independents, lean-republicans and the other people who really matter, this comes off as whining and conspiracy-mongering.  A wellspring of leadership, it is not.

3. It's not always an issue of motives.  I don't think I'm the only person who has grown tired of Palin defenders claiming anyone who criticizes her of being part of an elite, Ivy League, cocktail-sipping fraternity that simply will not accept an out-of-towner who went to sub-par schools.  Is it that hard to imagine that reasonable people who seek common goals can say that a particular politician is not well-suited for national office?  The knee-jerk appeals to class resentment are akin to sticking your fingers in your ears and singing.  Palin has a very different campaign style and some serious gaps in her policy knowledge.  Acknowledge that or dispute that, but don't cast aspersions.

The main reason that the Bill Ayers material towards the end of the campaign didn't stick is because people looked at Obama and didn't believe what the critics were saying - namely, that he's really some sort of secret radical closer in alignment to 60s hippie terrorists than to middle class America.  A better strategy would have been to take the man at his words, showing good faith, and then going after his policies based on the ample problems they had on their face.  It comes off as conspiratorial and paranoid to assign unseen motives to a political candidate.

What will we learn from the Palin story?  If we continue to blame the media, Letterman, Frum and the Harvard Alumni Association, perhaps nothing.

The Chicken Little-ification of the Conservative Movement

We start with a small story right here at Next Right about how Obama didn't let reporters in to cover a basketball game, but instead sent out a slick media package.  Not long into it, we get the phrase "Ministry of Propaganda." 


And we wonder why conservatives are failing to break through with a broader audience.  It has far less to do with principles, pork, transparency or any of that and a whole lot more to do with how the mainstream conservative media treats everything Obama does as heralding the rise of some sort of Communist/Fascist state. 

We saw Americans speaking up for sanity at tea parties.  Everyone else saw signs with Obama wearing a Hitler mustache or photoshopped in with hammers and sickles.  If that isn't an invitation for an undecided voter to tune out the voices behind the signs, I don't know what is.  You and I know that the people with the nutty signs were a few bad apple Freepers, Ron Paulists and throwback Birchers, but way too much of this paranoid style has seeped into places like National Review and even this site to a lesser extent.

The chicken-littleification of the GOP is a huge roadblock to winning elections.  People see Obama, whatever the policy differences, as an even-tempered guy, not some aspiring tinpot dictator or deluded campus radical.  That impression will not be successfully countered by being louder and making more extreme claims.  There is a big difference between saying that a policy will have serious bad outcomes and that it will lead to the destruction of everything we hold dear.  First of all, people will listen to you if you claim the former.

Let's try some guidelines.


- Obama will reduce available healthcare choices;

- Obama's budget plans have very serious long term consequences for the American economy and our ability to pay for entitlements to which citizens have grown accustomed;

- Obama's open-borders immigration policy depresses wages, increases the possibility of terrorist infiltration and makes a mockery of the notion that we are a nation of laws;

- Obama's national security policies make us less safe and give more free reign to governments hostile to America while decreasing the ability of our intelligence agencies to do their vital work.

Not Helpful:

- The One's lapdog sycophants in the Obamedia are unwilling to investigate his deep connections to Weather Underground terrorist radicals.

- Show us the birth certificate!

- Closing Guantanamo means freeing terrorists in our neighborhood. (as if they were going to get an apartment next door).

- "These events have heralded a new era of partnership between the White House and private companies, one that calls to mind the wonderful partnership Germany formed with France and the Low Countries at the start of World War II." (from David Brooks of all places).

- It is time to send him and his lazy supporters who steal from the people who work and give to the people who don't work, back to their home state or maybe send them to Iran to lived...make sure Al Gore is with them. (Also from Next Right)


Conservatives are smarter than this!

The Lazy Party

It has been about half a year since Election Day 2008.  In that time, we have heard a fair number of theories being put forth as to what Republicans need to do to regain the majority in Congress, or at least stop the bleeding.  To review.

- We need to purge the party of moderates in order to clarify the GOP "brand."  First, Arlen Specter.  Second, the immensely personally popular Colin Powell.  Sen. Olympia Snowe could be next.

- Most recently, Jonah Goldberg says we need to find a "Hispanic Ward Connerly" to give the same message on immigration that so turned off the Hispanic vote.

- We should have a "big tent," though the new entrants into said tent shouldn't be allowed to shift the party ideologically.  Why they would enter the tent isn't clearly explained.

- We should organize better.  Because voters go for the party that makes the most noise and holds the most meetings of the faithful.

- Twitter.  The narrative states that Libs won TV, Conservatives won radio and Libs won blogs/social networking.  Since Twitter is the newest internet fad, we should try to win that because it's obviously next in line.

- Rush says we should forget about a "listening tour" but should instead "teach" about conservatism.  How many people know that conservatives favor tax cuts?  It would be a revelation to millions!

- After TARP, NCLB and the rest of W's program, we should start acting like conservatives.  Dislike of the party and disgust with the previous administrations have to do entirely with the party not adhering to its ideological roots.

What do all of these arguments have in common?  They hold movement conservatism as defined and zealously guarded by National Review, Rush Limbaugh and the rest as blameless.  It's a philosophy "under glass," and any failure of the public to sign up for the program is because we're explaining it wrong or because we didn't adhere to the script closely enough.

This supremely self-serving argument holds that people who hold down-the-line conservative positions from abortion to taxes (sorry, couldn't think of a "Z") need not rethink their positions or comprimise on some issues in exchange for a better chance of enacting others. 

Thinking like this is lazy, egotistical and bound to fail.  Voters understand modern movement conservatism loud and clear and they don't like decent-sized chunks of it.  Democrats came to grips with that, moved welfare off the table and got on with the rest of their agenda, which is why we're talking about card check and socialized medicine today.  It's time we turn inward, not to purge, but to reflect.

Inside-out thinking and how not to blow the 2010 elections

During the majority years, the GOP did not endear itself to either the base or the swing voters from which majorities are made; this much is clear.

The base was unhappy with the Medicare prescription drug benefit, NCLB, immigration and earmarks.  The swing voters on the other hand,  did not like the way the Terri Schaivo matter was handled, turned against the Iraq War and got tired of hearing how every single domestic problem could be solved by tax cuts.  

Thinking as a member of the base and talking with members of the base about the party's problem will lead you to focus on base issues, which is fine if they generally track with what the wider electorate thinks.  To a great extent, corruption and transparency are issues everyone can get behind - so-called valence issues.  Investigating Chris Dodd et. al. and purging similar types from our own ranks makes everyone happy and should be a no-brainer.

The DeMint, Limbaugh, RedState et. al. strategy is "inside out," based on the idea that voters are fungible and making your most reliable voters happy will improve a party's standing with marginal voters down the scale.  In other words, they say that an ideological purge applauded by some Freeper with a bookshelf that spans from Sean Hannity to Ollie North will appeal to a low information swing voter who has two or three core issues that he cares about when (and if) he pays attention.

This is insane.

Attempting to gain a majority by addressing base concerns will get you a happy base and DeMint's 30 Senators in perpetuity.

Of course a happy base means happier door-to-door volunteers and more generous donors.  However, this makes party goals into one big game of inside baseball.  Instead, an "outside in" strategy focuses on growth over purity.  If you look at where the otherwise ascendent Democrats are flailing, it is because of unpopular or incompetent personalities like Govs. Corzine and Patterson.  Instead of an endless series of litmus tests, no-tax pledges and vote-my-way-or-you're-dead-to-me votes, the GOP and conservatives should recruit candidates who are personally appealing, collegial, not gaffe-prone and ethically clean.  Just because some state senator voted for an increase in the beer tax a decade ago shouldn't doom him in a Senate primary.  The same thing goes for any manner of social and fiscal issues.  The vast majority of voters choose between individuals, not between ACU or NRA scores.  Pick good individuals and you win, even in unfriendly districts.

This may be anathema to some, but I truly think that most conservatives would be happy with a majority that votes their way 75% of the time than an ineffectual minority that votes in lockstep but can walk into CPAC with their heads held high.   You make the call.

On Specter

It's safe to say that you have heard that Sen. Arlen Specter has switched parties from (nominal) Republican to Democrat. 

I imagine that a lot of people here and elsewhere will wish him a good riddance.  Given the frustration conservatives have felt with his decisions on many occasions, it's only natural.  However, all the whining about Specter, the primary challenges and the general abuse hurled towards this man has left us without enough votes to filibuster and yet another seat to claw back come the next election.

Congrats, guys.  We're a little more ideologically pure and a little smaller.  Funny how that works.

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