Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Elsewhere: Attitude, Veepstakes, More

Yikes - I wrote this hours ago and forgot to post it. I suppose it's still fine; it's time for a major catch-up elsewhere post.

On Friday, at PP I talked veepstakes basics again -- why it doesn't matter, why it does matter -- noting that Rick Perry was exactly right about it. Also, at Greg's place, I reviewed some of the presidential predictor models that I tend to like to see what they say about 2012.

Today at PP I was on the sequester, and how it works by forcing Republicans to actually make real choices. Yesterday's PP post was about the politics of vagueness: I argued that Romney's lack of policy detail is all about how he was nominated.

And over the weekend, I had a new column over at Salon talking about another aspect of the lack of policy detail from Republican politicians: that their constituents are demanding attitude, not policy.


  1. I noticed a media boomlet for Christie on Tuesday--since in Republican politics particularly there is usually an invisible hand pulling the puppet strings, I wonder what this is about. Wishful thinking? Desperation? Or an early clue to the new direction?

    From my intuitive perspective I agree that the v.p. pick matters mostly in what it says about the presidential candidate. So last time it helped Obama look like he had solid judgment, and eventually McCain, not so much.

    Interesting take on why (else) the Romney campaign lacks substance. I assumed it was part of his strategy to spend the annual budget of a small state to toxify Obama and be the fill in the blanks alternative. For whatever reasons, at this point it's getting more than a little alarming, and frightening.

  2. Regarding your PP piece on the sequester: Isn't the whole idea behind the sequester to make it basically impossible to go with your third option of not caring about the deficit. I mean isn't the only way for that to occur for both sides to reach a compromise where they say basically "Nevermind that whole deficit reduction thing that we nearly caused a default over. Let's just go back to high deficits and no long-term plan to curb them." That just seems like the least acceptable option to Tea Partiers and their representatives in the House.

    I mean I really have no idea what they'll end up doing, but killing the sequester, maintaining current levels of spending/revenue, and kicking the can down the road with a debt ceiling increase seems the least likely path.

    1. I guess we disagree; I think it's quite likely that when push comes to shove Tea Partiers will prefer high deficits to either raising taxes or slashing spending on stuff they like, and Dems will have sufficient leverage to prevent cuts in only stuff that Dems like. But as you say, we'll see how it plays out.

  3. I think you are quite wrong about policy vs attitude.

    Consider your take on Cruz vs Dewhurst; that the real difference is that Dewhurst will make compromises with Democrats, but Cruz won't. That is a policy difference. And it's likely to produce a large difference in policy outcomes, which is after all what matters. Suppose you take the view (for example) that the most important thing is holding the line against Democrat tax rises. Cruz and Dewhurst both agree that's important. But if you vote for Dewhurst, chances are that when push comes to shove he'll vote for the tax rises anyway in exchange for some pork, and then explain why it was such a hard decision, blah blah blah. Cruz, however, will hold the line. That matters.

    The question of whether the benefits of compromise are worth the costs is indisputably one of policy. Moreover, I think it's pretty obvious that compromising with the current Democratic party has been proven to be a fool's game, and that any politician willing to do so is essentially proving that their professed conservative beliefs are just for show.

    1. Oh, I think it can have substantive effects, although not always in the direction you suggest (sometimes, refusing to compromise just means you don't get your half a loaf).

    2. Of course, refusing to compromise doesn't necessarily result in victory.

      But the whole point is that long and bitter experience shows that compromising with the Democrats doesn't get you half a loaf. It gets payoffs to individual politicians and/or interest groups, which end up being orthogonal or even hostile to conservative principles. If the Democrats pass tax rises with the support of some Republicans, it won't be because they agreed to abolish the FDA/voucherize education/repeal Obamacare/whatever as part of the deal. Ridiculous! It will be because they agreed that some of the tax rises should be spent on pork for the individual politicians they managed to peel off. In many ways that is worse than no compromise and a straight defeat.

      The most egregious examples of this, of course, were TARP and ARRA - which is what gave birth to the Tea Party, and the Republican critique that you term "attitude."

    3. Step away from tax cuts, though, and get into other policy areas. What you see is things like "we can't accept compromise with Dems on health care or climate change." The funny thing is that the positions that can't be compromised with are the GOP's positions just the year before! Obamacare was Romneycare (and touted by many conservatives back then; heck, McCain proposed the individual mandate in 2008!) Cap and trade was the Republican solution to climate change...before it was pushed by Democrats.

      Now, it could be that these policies (and others) were simple fig leafs, not actual preferences of the GOP, just offers made to look like they were serious, when the party's real position was "do nothing at all" on those (and other) issues. Or, it could be that the GOP is fairly bereft of actual policy ideas beyond the basics of no taxes and social conservativism, and thus "compromise" with Dems is the inevitable result of actually trying to deal with problems that aren't taxes, abortion, or gay people.

    4. I do not know the precise strategy that was aimed at by the politicians who put forward those proposals, but surely you realise that neither cap-and-trade nor the individual mandate were ever popular among Republican voters. You are making an unfortunate elision between Republican voters/activists and senior politicians.

      You are quite correct that the GOP do not have policy ideas in the sense that Democrats use the term - meaning new and innovative forms of federal interference and tinkering. However, Republicans are broadly associated with plenty of policy ideas, that have nothing to do with taxes, abortion or gays, eg:

      - large reductions in regulation, particularly in pharma and the environment
      - school vouchers
      - cutting welfare spending
      - tort reform
      - right to work
      - smaller federal government
      - rules not discretion in monetary policy
      - etc

      What all of these have in common is that they involve the government stepping back from its overweening role and returning freedom and responsibility to ordinary people. When you characterise this as "do nothing at all," I am afraid you make dialogue very difficult.

    5. While my description was glib, I don't think "doing nothing" is all that inaccurate for 4 of those items (possibly 6). Reductions in regulation, cutting welfare spending, right to work, and smaller government all involve less government than we presently have in those areas. While hyperbolic, the description isn't off. And that's fine; conservatives can want less government and liberals more.

      However, what JB was arguing and what I'm concurring with is that the modern GOP is adopting a stance and behavior that seems fundamentally incompatible with democracy. "My way or the highway" doesn't work in a democracy.

      Now, conservatives are right to observe that the deck is somewhat stacked against them, just by the very nature of what they want. Liberals want SOMETHING, so if you want nothing, half-a-loaf is still a loss, and a series of half-loafs is still moving policy in a liberal direction. On the other hand, our system is set up to strongly favor the status quo, which is a significant conservative advantage. Granted, it might not look like that after a period of liberal policymaking (such as 1933-1975ish), but the liberal gains took herculean efforts, and (as the liberal desire to go back to the well on health care for the last 40+ years shows) liberals did not get everything they wanted either.

      But, from this side of the aisle, "disingenuous" is the kindest term that can be applied to the GOP on many issues. On issues on which people are clearly unsatisfied with the status quo (health care being an obvious example, as would be the economy), both parties have a strong incentive to propose plans for how they would address the issue. From the cheap seats, it seems like the Dems propose policies they could live with, whereas the GOP proposes something for the sake of having a proposal. Health care. Cap and trade. "Repeal and Replace." Balanced Budget Amendments. "No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for a vote" (Bush quote on having the UN vote on 1442 in 2003) Recent history seems littered with the discarded promises made by the GOP.

      It is in the nature of politics for promises to be made and be broken. Obama has broken a number in the "war on terror" that have infuriated liberals. But, it seems like when the Dems have an unpopular position (say, gun control or affirmative action), they choose to remain silent on it and not to actually do anything. The let sleeping dogs lie. Whereas, when the GOP position is unpopular (health care, climate change), they propose a fake policy that they don't want, then refuse the outstretched hand that offers that policy back to them.

  4. There's a great David Frum quote about the GOP's privileging of attitude over engagement with real life:

    "A left-wing friend of mine jokes that conservatives are “the party of affect”: meaning that conservatives tend to care much more how a politician speaks than what a candidate says. Christie almost perfectly exemplifies this rule. If he were a soft-spoken, conciliatory Northeastern budget-balancer, he’d be dismissed as a Bill Weld/Mike Castle RINO. But instead, he’s an-in-your-face confrontationalist. So he can favor handgun control and still be the Coulter choice for president. Just so long as he’s rude about it."

  5. Great point on how the right is focusing more on attitude than policy these days. It reminds me a lot of the new left in the 60's and 70's and how they approached politics. For example at the 1972 convention feminist and gay rights activists demanded platform votes on their planks during prime time television. McGovern and other Democrats wanted to moderate their image for the American electorate and so McGovern had his floor whips work to defeat the planks and this outraged many activists, some of who then went on to denounce him to the press and some who event then began waving signs that said things like "don't vote in 72". Despite getting the most liberal nominee of the 20th Century the nomination it still wasn't enough and some people hated him because of his attitude. Richard J. Daley was one of the most hated American politicians of the anti-war movement even thought Daley actually opposed the war in Vietnam in private as early as 1967 and even told LBJ to get out, as he put it "When you're dealt a losing hand in poker, you throw in your cards." But Daley's age, image, views, method of politics and general aura of old guard politics made him a big target of the New Left even before the convention violence in 1968. Indeed if you look at the way a lot of the new left worked a lot of stress was put on attitude over policy positions, hence electing Stokey Carmichael over John Lewis to head up SNCC in 1966.

    Just look at the failure of the so called grand bargain. The GOP had the chance to dramatically cut spending in exchange for much smaller revenue increases with damaging Obama's political standing to boot (look at the approval numbers from the summer and fall of 2011). They refused because Obama agreed to the lopsided deal they proposed. I bet if Obama proposed to end the FDA in his 2nd inaugural the GOP would come out lock step opposed. This is what focusing on attitude gets you.


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