Benko's Attack: Setting the Record Straight

This morning I awoke to a "public flogging of Patrick Ruffini" from Ralph Benko, an enthusiastic proponent of new media in the conservative movement in D.C. He was responding to my recent piece on the "Obama Disconnect" -- the lively debate surrounding Organizing for America and Obama's loss of grassroots mojo from the campaign.

Ralph attempts to connect my skeptical view of Organizing for America (and indeed the Obama campaign) to disdain for the tea party movement. It's a pretty big leap, and one superseded by my numerous posts on the actual tea party movement (here, here, and here). 

Erick Erickson has come out in my defense but highlights this quote he says is "rubbing people the wrong way:" 

 

Now, what happens when the campaign goes away? What happens when the enthusiasm inevitably ebbs and the hard work of governing begins? The immediate benefits of a bottom-up strategy become less clear. You revert to traditional instincts, where powerful obstacles stand in the way of getting things done — even amongst your base, and the wielding of massive political machinery cannot be left to amateurs.

This would be damning if it were actually about the conservative movement, but it's not. It's about Obama, and the shift from the faux-bottom up ethos of the campaign to the top-down work of governance. Actively throughout the post, I was putting myself in the shoes of a David Axelrod, first (some might say cynically) embracing the "bottom-up" energy of supporters in the campaign because of their financial and organizational strength, then jettisoning them when that enthusiasm invariably ebbed when they came into power. Isn't the story of Massachusetts right now the extremely fired up Republican base versus the listless, moribund Democratic base? The quote is a commentary on the reality of Democratic politics right now, not the very opposite phenomenon that is the dominant reality in the Republican party. 

There is a legitimate question of what happens when a party comes to power, and the role of the grassroots in that shift.

There is no question that grassroots politics is harder when you are in power. That is just a fact that I think requires no further explanation. The MoveOn.org / OFA base is not in the room when Obama horsetrades on health care with Harry Reid, the unions, or the Blue Dogs. This invariably leads to compromises the left doesn't like. But, news flash: there were lots of things the right didn't like about the Bush Administration, from Medicare Part D to the bailouts. And I would remind Ralph that I advised a party-line Republican vote against the bailout.

Does the base tend to get sold down the river more when one is actually in power? Yes. Do I like that, as Ralph suggests I do? No. But I am also realistic enough to recognize that it's a distasteful reality and the price of actually being in office. And that's ultimately why you have a movement: to minimize deviation from principle as much as possible and to set standards for those pesky professional power-wielders. 

Right now, the right is in a different moment. The role of the movement is not to serve as a check on the elected officials because the elected officials are largely irrelevant. The role of the movement is to expand the opportunities for capturing ground as much as possible. Massachusetts would not have been possible without the grassroots deciding to make this the cause it did. If we win, it will be their victory. And the fact that a victory will have a profound and lasting effect on the policy of the United States is the ultimate testament to things the grassroots can do that the establishment can't. 

 

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Massachusetts would not have

Massachusetts would not have been possible without the grassroots deciding to make this the cause it did. If we win, it will be their victory. And the fact that a victory will have a profound and lasting effect on the policy of the United States is the ultimate testament to things the grassroots can do that the establishment can't.

If Coakley wins by at least a weak two digit margin, does that mean that the republican grassroots lost/dem establishment won,  or is it possible that the dem grassroots won?

 

The difference between a democracy and a republic

Ralph Benko doesn't get that we're a representative democracy.

Grassroots work hard to get behind candidates that they support and if that candidate wins, we need to simply keep an eye on them to see if they're enacting an agenda that we expect. If they don't, we support someone else.

A city can hope for a certain defense-oriented coach for their football team that gave up too many points per game the prior season. But once next season rolls around with that new coach, we can't expect the fans to call the plays or do much more than vent their anger on blogs and sports radio if the coach feels the personnel is more suited to playing with a high-powered offense in the hopes of outscoring the other teams.

To highlight the points above, in a campaign you are working exclusively with people of your own political persuasion and trying to reach out to independents that are open to voting with your party. When governing you must work with people who are of a very different political persuasion to reach agreements and compromise.

People like the Tea Parties and MoveOn/OFA are working exclusively with people who are of an activist political persuasion who are trying to reach out to the people who run and would campaign that are still of their political persuasion, but not in as much of an activist manner.

It's great that we have activism in this nation, but just by looking at Benko's post filled with name-dropping and a tone that's very thin-skinned, there's a reason activists have never achieved significant political power. They're too insulated.

Good government requires both elites and populists

Like it or not, it helps if the person crafting foriegn policy can actually find the Streights of Hormuz on an unlabeled map.  Likewise, executives in the Treasury Department need to understand the impact of currency fluctuations on T-Bills as they attempt to raise money.  It would also help if the Secretary of Interior is familiar with how snow melt in the Rockies affects availability of water in Arizona.

Nevertheless, all government officials need to be deeply concious of their duty to be responsive to the people who directly or indirectly put them in office.  They (we, actually for I am one of them), must be experts at implementing public policy goals but defer to the electorate in setting those goals.

The problem arises when the goals become unrealistic or contradictory.  There are some goals that simply cannot be achieved or will require very painful tradeoffs.  At this point, the elites, or public policy experts depending on how much you dislike them, are faced with the choice of failing to achieve public goals (causing their bosses to lose reelction), recomending painful and unpopular tradeoffs (causing their bosses to lose reelection), or explaining the situation to the public at which some populist leader comes forward with some hairball scheme that sounds like a miricle to those who do not understand they are being sold a bill of goods.  At this point the populist leader (currently Obama) sweeps to electoral victory, realizes they must now make the hairball scheme work, hires a new set of experts who actually know what they are talking about, and they once again face the dillema of failing to achieve the goals or recomending painful tradeoffs.

The electorate has the ultimate authority to set public policy goals (that's why it is called "public" policy).  Populism, defined as respect for and deference to broadbased public opinion, should be the foundation for public policy development.  Unfortunately, entirely too many populists on both the left and right have decided that if enough people scream loudly enough, we can all have are cake and eat it too.  This simply is not realistic.  No matter how many MoveOn.org emails flood Congress, terrorists are not going to stop trying to kill us just because we close Guantanamo.  No amount of Tea-Party activism can change the simple economic math that will eventually require eiither cuts in Medicare payments or tax increases.

I've worked in government and politics for 30 years and found the vast majority of the despised elites are tring as hard as they can to respond to populist sentiment and give the people what they want.  But sooner or later, the people need to wake up and smell the coffee.  Screaming may make you feel good but now tell me; do you want Medicare to pay for any and all treatement Gramma wants without having a government or insurance company bearuacrat second guessing the cost? or do you want to cut taxes?  Because you can't have both.  Do you want a vibrant growing economy that creates jobs? or do you want to restrict America for Americans and keep out foriegn products/workers? Because you can't have both.  Those and other tradeoffs are not elitist sentiments, they are simply bare bones statements of reality.

Tell us what you want and we will bust our butts to deliver it for you; but don't blame "the elites" if your cake tastes funny when you eat it or looks a little flat when you admire it on the table.  We are just stretching the flour as far as possible so you can have it and eat it too.

elites vs. administrators

WoodbridgeVa,

Thanks for the thoughtful comment.  But I would like to attempt to make a distinction, though, based on your paragraph:

I've worked in government and politics for 30 years and found the vast majority of the despised elites are tring as hard as they can to respond to populist sentiment and give the people what they want.  But sooner or later, the people need to wake up and smell the coffee.  Screaming may make you feel good but now tell me; do you want Medicare to pay for any and all treatement Gramma wants without having a government or insurance company bearuacrat second guessing the cost? or do you want to cut taxes?  Because you can't have both.  Do you want a vibrant growing economy that creates jobs? or do you want to restrict America for Americans and keep out foriegn products/workers? Because you can't have both.  Those and other tradeoffs are not elitist sentiments, they are simply bare bones statements of reality.

We should probably make a distinction between "elites" and administrators.  I have no doubt that most administrators do a pretty good job in managing their departments and, consequently, serving their customers - i.e., the public.  It's the "elites", though, who are the ones really in charge.  They are the ones who set the budgets under which administrators must toil, for instance.  And I don't agree that they do a good job of giving the people what they want.  I think they do a very good job of giving people what they THINK they want, which coincidentally also corresponds to getting them re-elected.  Such as stimulus boondoggles.  Because the stimulus package was a waste of money, I don't blame the administrator of a particular stimulus project; I blame the elites who foisted it upon us in the first place.

RNC irrelevance

Massachusetts would not have been possible without the grassroots deciding to make this the cause it did.

You are absolutely right, which makes it silly when the usual leftist suspects bring up their claim that Republicans are DOOOMED because the RNC has Michael Steele in charge.  Michael Steele is nowhere to be found in Massachusetts - thank Heavens - and Scott Brown has already exceeded all expectations for his candidacy.

Steele is nowhere to be found??

..You're not looking all that hard, are you.  He's prolly been told not to show his face, but the RNC is balls-to-the-wall on this one, as you well know.

 

"...Please visit Scott Brown's website today www.brownforussenate.com/ and make a donation of $50, $100 or even $150 -- the maximum amount you can contribute is $2,400. Whatever amount you contribute, please do so now.

The special election is less than 12 days away. I hope to hear from you today.

Sincerely,

Michael Steele Chairman, Republican National Committee.."

 

We Are NOT a "Democracy" In Any Shape Or Form!

Oh, Evil Conservative!  You break my heart!  Our Founder hated & despised "democracies",  with good reason.  We are NOT a "democracy"!

We are a CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC!     

 A “republic” is “a state in which the exercise of the sovereign power is lodged in representatives elected by the people…” (Webster’s 1828).   A “constitutional republic” is a state in which the representatives (and other officials) are limited and restricted by a constitution.  This country was established as a constitutional republic.

A “democracy” is two wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

Our Founders so distrusted the judgment of The People [anyone wonder why?] that our Constitution provided that only the members of The House would be directly elected by The People.  The U.S. Senators were to be chosen by the State Legislatures (Art. I, Sec. 3, cl. 1); and the President was to be chosen by "electors"  (Art. II, Sec. 1 and the 12th Amendment).  The electors were to conduct investigations (The Federalist Papers No. 68, 2n & 3d paras) and then vote for President.  The President was to be chosen INDIRECTLY by The People (Federalist No. 39, 5th para).  The People don't have the knowledge or the judgment to make the selections!  The Founders knew it.  WE know it!  

Here is a paper which explains these & other basic concepts of which our People are completely ignorant!

http://publiushuldah.wordpress.com/category/definitions-and-basic-concepts/

BTW: Communist East Germany (DDR) was a "Democratic Republic".  Everyone who refers to us as a "democracy" should have his ears boxed. 

question about The House

If the only repersentation of The People comes from The House, hasn't that representation been diluted down over the last 200 years.  I don't know what the ratios are but it seems like there would have to be over 5,000 congressmen in The House in order for The People to have the same level of representation as they did way back then. 

These days The People are making voting decisions mostly on radio/TV ads instead of actually knowing a candidates reputation in the local community.  That puts a lot of power into the hands of big campaign donors (or internet saavy liberals).  Not sure if thats what the founders had in mind. 

expanding the House

That's a great point.  It is a worthy idea.

Here's a Walter Williams column and a Jonah Goldberg column on the matter.  They both cite strong Federalist Papers arguments for expanding the House; briefly - if the House had lots more members, each member would be more representative of the people's will; and it's a lot harder to buy the votes of 1,000+ legislators than it is of 435.

Even the New York Times has opined favorably on this subject.

I think it's definitely an idea worth exploring.

 

 

Thank you, chemjeff

Your post was most informative - thank you!

The Tea Partiers know they're amateurs!.....

...I've never interpreted the TP movement as a collection of people who want to get into gov't and run it.  No Patrick!  These are people who know what a Republic is.  And they understand that they have their own jobs and the elected reps have their jobs.  But he elected reps have become so incompetent that we, the people must now break away from our busy schedules and get these elected bozo's straight on what their job is and insist that they do it.  And what is their job?   First/Foremost/Primarily :  make decisions/policy based on  what is good for our Nation and its Citizenry.  Foreign gov'ts, world orgs, NGO's and other special interests = way  way way down on the list of priorities.

Its not so complicated as you and those you're debating  make it.  We'd like to go back and dedicate our lives to our churches, families, Nation, and our jobs.  We're not crazy about having to stop what we're doing and tutor these politicians. 

The Tea Party movement is, indeed a  bottom-up  force aimed at getting the GOP and Conservative Movement back on course.  You know what would be nice?  If we had some "weighty" top-down action pounding / hammering on the GOP from the top.  A Palin, Limbaugh, Hannity or Coulter could do the job but, sadly, they spend 100% of their time telling us what we already know about the "wicked left".  Darvin Dowdy 

Life is dangerous

It's dangerous to be a Republican these days.  Even a loyal aparachik like yourself can, through no fault of your own, fall on the wrong side of the hate machine.  Welcome to the Next Right.  I hope you're proud of the monster you helped make.

Rightenstein

"It lives!!!  It LIVES!!!!  Come, Ygor, we have much more to do to make this fellow presentable."

I see the Tea Party movement as a peculiarity of 2009, when the anger it is based on was a necessary part of the Corporate Right's strategy to delegitimize and demonize the dangerous notion that a people could effect the change it wanted.

Now that the rage has been probed and found to be rage at ALL incumbents, not just Democrats, the Tea Party Movement will be sanitized, organized, and co-opted into a manageable sideshow to the REAL GOP agenda of obstructing regulation and change and maximizing monopoly and profits.

THAT part is already well under way, you betcha.

Tea Party movement and the Religious Right

The American Prospect describes how the religious right is infiltrating the Tea Party movement:

Next month’s Tea Party National Convention has been making news for the fat fee Sarah Palin is commanding — $100,000, according to many reports. But the gathering, to be held at Nashville’s Opryland Hotel, is interesting for another reason as well: It marks the attempt of the old-school Christian right to take over the tea-party movement. Speakers joining Palin include Rick Scarborough, Roy Moore, and Joseph Farah, men who are radical even by religious-right standards. Their presence shows that the tea-party movement is no longer merely populist, libertarian, or anti-government, if it ever was. It is theocratic. Indeed, after several months in which the religious right seemed lost and dispirited, it has found a way to ride the tea-party express into renewed relevance.

From the beginning, of course, there’s been overlap between the tea parties and the Christian right. Both have their strongholds in the white South, and both arise out of a sense of furious dispossession, a conviction that the country that is rightfully theirs has been usurped by sinister cosmopolitan elites. They have the same favorite politicians — particularly Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is also speaking in Nashville. Glenn Beck, the media figure most associated with the tea-party movement, has a worldview deeply shaped by apocalyptic Mormonism; he is contemptuous of the idea of church-state separation and believes the United States was founded to be a Christian nation…

Naturally, enterprising theocrats would look to the tea parties for salvation. And Scarborough, for one, is nothing if not enterprising. For years, the Baptist minister has been positioning himself as a next-generation Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. In 2002, he left his post as pastor of Pearland First Baptist Church to form Vision America, a group dedicated to organizing “patriot pastors” for political action. That year, Falwell identified him as one of the new leaders of the Christian right. The author of books like In Defense of … Mixing Church and State and the pithier Liberalism Kills Kids, Scarborough spent the Bush years organizing conferences that brought together conservative Republicans with preachers and activists working for the imposition of biblical law.

The fall of Scarborough’s closest political ally, the once-formidable Tom DeLay, eroded Scarborough’s political influence. So did the broader decline of the religious right. “His group has been puttering along with a tiny budget, and he has practically no national presence,” says Rob Boston, assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “His goal was to be the next Jerry Fawell, and it has not worked out. The tea-party movement could be the vehicle to give him a much-needed boost.”

 

There's an old saying...

...that really pertains to some of the most prominent of the right blogesphere:  "Lead, Follow or get the Hell out of the way". 

This is no time for games.  Sitting around trying to out-intellectualize one another will only get you into trouble eventually.  Bold solutions are needed not a game of intellectual dodge ball. DD

Bold Solutions?

Ron Paul was awesome in the Republican Debates. He definitely talked about some bold solutions.  He had a lot of people backing him, but in the long run there is no way that internet fund raising can compete with the corporate campaign finance.

So how do you shift power when big-money is driving the system?  Congress passes a feeble campaign finance reform bill every 4 years or so.  It doesn't do anything except give them something good to put in their resume.

I can think of 2 bold solutions that would change the system so that The People have more representation in government.

1) Strip down the federal gov and shift responsibility to state and local gov. 

2) Increase the number of representives in the House to 6,500. (the founding fathers set the level of representation at 30,000:1, right now its at about 700,000:1)