Tina K. Russell

February 7, 2009

Partisanship

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:46 pm

David Brooks:

Op-Ed Columnist – The Gang System – NYTimes.com
Barack Obama is not initiating events (he’s had surprisingly little influence on the stimulus bills’ evolution). But circumstances now present him with a precedent-setting moment of decision. Does he embrace the Gang System and try to use it to create a new style of politics? Or does he remain an orthodox Democrat, deferring to the Old Bulls on legislation, enforcing party discipline and trying to pick off a Republican or two here and there to pass laws?

The liberals already are mobilizing against the Moderate Gangs. On Thursday, the liberal interest groups were intensively lobbying against the stimulus cuts. But there’s no way that Obama, who spent two years campaigning on postpartisan politics, can reject the single biggest manifestation of postpartisanship in the country today. If he does that, his credibility will be shot.

I really, really hate this idea, that it is somehow virtuous to compromise in every situation, at the exact midpoint of what each side is requesting. There’s no thought involved; you just declare yourself a moderate, step back, and feel righteous. It makes no allowance for the fact that, in a polarized political world, the center is itself subjective because it’s determined by the poles. It’s especially frustrating to those who support one side or the other, because the feeling is that you haven’t even looked at our ideas; you’ve just tarred us as “partisan,” dismissed us as “the liberals” or “the conservatives.”

It also perpetuates an irritating stalemate in American politics, where the party of good government and the party of small government compromise with a big government that doesn’t work. It’s everywhere in the government we have (and possibly deserve); it’s what you get with a longstanding mentality of “starve the beast.” If liberals aren’t willing to confront that head-on, then we aren’t worth our salt in politics. If conservatives were unwilling to defend their beliefs, I’m not sure why they would be in politics, either.

I’m also irritated whenever I hear the word “post-partisan.” I voted for Barack Obama largely because I saw shades of the Wellstone model of politics in him (after all, they both came from academia and mastered grassroots organizing). In the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s method (described in The Conscience of a Liberal: Reclaiming the Compassionate Agenda, not to be confused with Paul Krugman’s book of a similar name), you don’t give up your principles; you hold strongly to them, but you also reach across the aisle to find where your strong beliefs intersect with others’, even those of your supposed ideological archenemies. Wellstone hopped from coffee shop to coffee shop both to campaign and to get feedback on what his potential constituents wanted; what he found was that people who identified as strongly liberal, strongly conservative, or anywhere in between were still mainly concerned with the same issues, like good schools and healthcare. If you get beyond those labels, you can get a lot more done.

So, to hear that the only way Barack Obama can get past the partisan gridlock of Washington is to abandon his principles makes my blood boil. We’ve suffered through decades of conservatives absolutely convinced in the most radical solutions to every problem, and liberals struggling to compromise and giving themselves a raw deal. Barack Obama can and should do what he feels is right, what is in his best judgment, exercising the faith we placed in him through election.

The difference between this and the Bush era needs to be listening and careful consideration. Barack Obama needs to communicate with Republicans, get their input, and address their concerns just as he must do with Democrats. He must treat them equally as governing partners in a system of checks and balances, and as duly elected representatives of their constituencies. He must respect their experience and value their opinion.

Congressional roll calls are a childish way of measuring this, however. If not a single Republican voted for the stimulus in the House, perhaps they were exercising their right not to agree with the President in the end. That is their right, and it doesn’t mean the President is dismissing their concerns, nor does it mean the bill isn’t better for their input. It certainly doesn’t mean we should hold our political process hostage, watering down the bill until the numbers look more “post-partisan.” Sometimes that merely means devoid of strong ideas.

Our political process works through vigorous debate, and it’s for good reason that nothing mandates that everyone agree. In addition, in some situations, a compromise can be worse than either original proposal. Bipartisanship and cooperation are worthy goals. Post-partisanship, silencing the voices of all those who have strength in their convictions, is not.

November 13, 2008

The Republicans regroup

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:03 pm

David Brooks on the delusional fantasies of high-minded movement conservatives:

Op-Ed Columnist – Darkness at Dusk – NYTimes.com
Members of the conservative Old Guard see themselves as members of a small, heroic movement marching bravely from the Heartland into belly of the liberal elite. In this narrative, anybody who deviates toward the center, who departs from established doctrine, is a coward, and a sellout.

This narrative happens to be mostly bogus at this point. Most professional conservatives are lifelong Washingtonians who live comfortably as organization heads, lobbyists and publicists. Their supposed heroism consists of living inside the large conservative cocoon and telling each other things they already agree with. But this embattled-movement mythology provides a rationale for crushing dissent, purging deviationists and enforcing doctrinal purity. It has allowed the old leaders to define who is a true conservative and who is not. It has enabled them to maintain control of (an ever more rigid) movement.

That’s awesome. Yes, David Brooks is right. This enormous, battle-tested organizational structure has given Republicans an advantage for a long time for the way it has mentored both Republican politicians and conservative talking points. It’s an advantage that Democrats never had until now, with Daily Kos, MoveOn.org, and other liberal bastions rallying the party faithful to help build a liberal majority. And, as those conservative institutions, built in William Buckley’s day, lurch forward into a brand new era and collapse under the crushing weight of doublethink (universal healthcare is unacceptable because it’s “socialism”… but bailing out banks is okay… ouch!), our new liberal institutions are more dynamic, more populist, and more attuned to the kind of change and rigorous discussion that fuel a successful party.

The GOP’s rigidity, its insane ability to march in complete lockstep, has served it well… until today. The GOP can’t be a party of perpetual anger at the “elites,” it has to make itself relevant to the concerns of ordinary people and explain why it can do a better job than the Democrats.

David Brooks continues in his column by saying that the old guard will eventually crumble and reformers will be able to bring about a bold new conservative dawn. You should, obviously, never trust me in giving advice to the Republicans. But, I will say this.

Part of the difficulty of being a Democrat is that we don’t seem to stand for anything. The Republicans are, off the top of my head (on their best days): small government, hard work, family values. The Democrats are… something. We’ve genuinely been too afraid of alienating somebody that we haven’t put forward a real party image (like, I don’t know… against war, caring for children, good schools, etc.).

The Republicans could sieze on this and create a party with a more dynamic image. I always thought that, if I formed a party, it would be one of personal empowerment… Uncle Sam can’t do everything, but he’s a fine chap and he has your back. He’ll help you out if you want to start a business, or if you’re sick, or when you want to send your kids to college. Mostly, he stays out of your way, but he’s there when you need him. Now that social Darwinism and a fundamentalist approach to the free market has failed utterly, there’s a way the Republicans could make inroads… not so much small government but smart government, a government subservient to its people (as it should be), a government that not only figures that you know best, but gives you the tools to succeed (good roads, schools, healthcare, etc.).

That could take a while. And, of course, the Republicans had better hurry, because Obama’s busy soaking up all that ideological space when he talks about personal responsibility and the government meeting people halfway who are already trying hard. In fact, I think we may have painted the Republicans into a pretty nice corner; let’s hope the embattled GOP doesn’t simply filibuster every damned thing that passes through Congress. (How come we never seemed to use that power ever when we were the minority party?)

August 22, 2008

Barackonomics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:14 am

Magazine Preview – Barack Obama, A Free-Market-Loving, Big-Spending, Fiscally Conservative Wealth Redistributionist – NYTimes.com

This is a wonderful article! Barack Obama basically says a lot of the things I’ve been feeling for the past few years: that the free market is a wonderful thing, and the government can help out by doing the things the free market can’t. Moreover, if the government invests in infrastructure, in education, in people, only then will the market reach its full potential or will people get the most from the market.

This is exactly why I love Obama and came to support him in the primaries: he’s sharp, he’s a pragmatist, and he’s a liberal. His University of Chicago background has made him fluent in the language of economics, making him just the one to tackle the crises of our time. The article is right in saying that Obama needs to unload the economic big guns and find a way to distill his economic plans into a marketable message to go against the aloof McCain. It’s become cliché, but it’s true: McCain, trying to win support from the base, has basically formed a policy of ticking every box in a column of archconservative dogmas that even conservatives are rethinking these days. Meanwhile, Obama has avoided a similar regurgitating of orthodoxy by looking carefully at liberal and conservative ideas and synthesizing a policy that shows a lot of promise. We need that guy in the White House ASAP.

(I always found it funny when people said Obama is “arrogant” or “too smart” or something. I kind of want a smart guy in the White House. I want a smart guy who surrounds himself with smart people of various ideological stripes. McCain is smart, of course, but he has no clear plans, no conviction, no direction. The man is past his prime. Obama, meanwhile, is brilliant and at the top of his game. If pundits think he’s too professorial, I say, class is in session! Poverty, war, and illiteracy are about to get a schoolin’!)

April 10, 2008

Block the Vote

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:32 pm

House Puts Off Vote on Trade Agreement – New York Times

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-led House, in an election-year showdown with the White House, on Thursday effectively denied President Bush a vote any time soon on a free trade agreement with Colombia, a key South American ally.

Oh, come on. If we’re going to get all uppity–and remain on our moral high ground–when Bush and Co. use the good old cloakroom hold to block a vote on a crucial issue, we need to save our blocks for when it’s very important… we need to save our political capital for pressing issues of freedom and security, not penny-ante trade deals that, secretly, nobody cares about.

But I care, because I like the US having an ally in Latin America. Does that make me a free-market fundamentalist? No! But, I don’t think that the Democrats ought to fall into the same xenophobic, protectionist patterns we always (rightly) criticize the Republicans for. You think we have it bad here? Check out Columbia, where they could really use freer trade with the United States.

Sure, sure, we could add stipulations making sure human rights and such–and the country’s sovreignty, which must not be for sale–are looked after. But now, the issue has been junked, and Pelosi has decided to return to partisan gridlock. Newt Gingrich taught us all that, if you’re going to bring the government to a halt, you’d better have a damn good reason because people will percieve it as a cynical ploy that’s preventing things from being done. Now, with an important civil liberties fight (telecom immunity… which is utter, complete crap and the Democrats ought to join a bike-chain human barrier against it if they know what’s good for them… and the Republicans, too, who ought to be against big government snooping) coming up, the Democrats will have much less energy and capital if they want to push their slim majority for the side of good.

Arrrgh. This is our first big political scuttling in the Senate? Usually, I’m a fairly big defender of the two-party system (basically: if you don’t like it, try one party, which is what we’ll get if you don’t vote). But for some reason, our own legislators are stuck in the trap that if you’re a liberal, you must not like trade. I’m in favor of free trade and human rights. Quelle shock! Clearly, I don’t exist.

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