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It’s Good to be the Speaker November 3, 2010

Posted by SV in Democracy, Politics, President Obama.
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John Boehner may not be directing a human chessboard in the Rotunda against the minority leader anytime soon, but he is about to find some substantial influence as the Speaker of the House.  He will lead a caucas far more united than the Democratic ones that Speaker Pelosi had to manage for her 4 years with her raucous Blue Dogs on her right flank.  He has a historic opportunity to serve as both the chief critic of the Administration as well as an architect in steering through bills that will highlight Republican solutions to the nation’s problems.  Now that the dust has settled (mostly), here is my underqualified analysis of yesterday’s election:

The House

It’s good to be John Boehner today.  The Republican Party is on track to have its biggest majority since 1947.  In virtually every competitive race, GOP candidates pulled off upsets, some expected, some surprising.  Three key races indicate the depth of the wave that swept the country last night.  In New Hampshire, both House races went to Republicans, providing a respectable toehold in New England, which has been devoid of Republican representatives since 2006.  As a sidenote, GOP candidates also did well in the Middle Atlantic states of New York and Pennsylvania.

A second important race saw Rep. John Spratt (D-SC) swept from office after 28 years representing the district.  He received a lot of flak for his chairmanship of the Budget Committee, which failed to pass a budget this year.  His demise, along with Gene Taylor’s in Mississippi, indicates that long-term incumbency is no longer enough to save these moderate Democrats in heavily Republican districts.  The final race, which came as somewhat of a surprise, was Rep. Ike Skelton’s (D-MO) loss to Republican Vicky Hartzler.  Skelton has served for 17 terms, was the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and was basically a moderate.  However, Hartzler proved an energetic campaigner, while Skelton (aged 77) did not run much of a campaign, relying on his incumbency and name recognition.  These races suggest that not only are moderate Blue Dogs and senior leaders not safe, but even liberals who overread their 2006/2008 mandates are vulnerable to challenges.

Presumptive Speaker-Elect John Boehner and Democrats highlighting the post-election casualty list

Now after the hyperanxiety of the campaign, the hard part begins.  Winning will prove easier than governing from the majority in the House.  To fulfill campaign promises, Republicans will (and should) pass various bills targeting Obamacare, financial regulation, stimulus programs, and other acts of the past two years.  Many of these will fall victim to Senate filibusters.  Nonetheless, they will be important symbolic statements to show the GOP is serious about its principles.  Once that statement is made clear, Republicans will have to contribute positive ideas to promote job growth and economic stabilization.  They can and should offer sound conservative bills.  But they should also offer some that have a decent shot of Senate passage.  Willing to compromise on a couple issues here and there will show the GOP is responsible and capable of not just shooting down Democratic proposals.

So John Boehner has his work cut out for him (sorry for the cliche).  The speaker’s platform and House majority will be a useful platform against the Obama Administration’s excesses and policies.  Some of the most egregious programs of the past two years will be flooded with amendments, hearings and investigations.  But Republicans will also have a great opportunity to demonstrate their ability to lead, to hold true to their principles and rein in government, and to not screw it up like last time.

The Senate

The Senate will clearly earn its moniker as the “saucer that cools the tea” over the next two years.  A lot of bills coming from the House will be slowed down in the Senate, where the narrow Democratic majority will put a brake on bills originating from the House, especially if they were sponsored by Tea Party-backed members.  However, bills that are not wildly controversial (like repealing Obamacare or razing the Department of Education) could pass with the support of a couple moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin or Ben Nelson (both up for reelection in 2012).  Nonetheless, look for a record low number of bills to emerge from the Senate for the President’s signature.

As a sidenote, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) will be seated very soon since they are replacing appointed senators.  This will complicate any Democratic plans to take advantage of a lame duck session of Congress to pass unpopular bills before they lose their House majority and substantial Senate majority.  Senator Harry Reid, against all odds, managed to pull off his reelection by a comfortable margin.  Now that he has to deal with a Republican House, look for lots of publicity duels between him and Boehner.

John Boehner and Harry Reid will have a lot to talk about over these next 2 years

Ballot Initiatives

The most overlooked story of the election.  In addition to selecting new members of Congress, state legislators, and governors, citizens in many states voted on a number of key issues in ballot initiatives.  Here are some of the most important:

Health Care - Every state that had a ballot measure on striking down or targeting the individual health care mandate  saw it pass by significant margins – Arizona (55-45), Colorado (53-47), and Oklahoma (65-35).  These clearly challenge federal law and will end up before the Supreme Court.  They demonstrate the continuing resilience of the Obamacare law since its passage in March.

Going to Pot… Not - Marijuana was a big issue in Arizona and California.  Despite the liberal/libertarian bent of the region, the cause for expanded marijuana legalization suffered across the board losses.  Arizona’s attempt to legalize medical marijuana came the closest, with about 7,000 more “No” votes, although it has not officially been called yet.  South Dakota decisively voted down medical marijuana by a 63-37 margin. Over the much more contentious issue of legalizing the drug for general consumption, California voters rejected that idea by a comparatively wide margin of 54-46.  The analysis? Traditional voters and those uncomfortable with encouraging the acceptability of marijuana, are not just limited to whites and Republicans.  Solid majorities of African-, Latino-, and Asian Americans voted the measure down too.

Redistricting – California, as in many other areas, once again pioneered new ideas.  With 61% of the vote, Californians voted to take the power of redistricting away from the state legislature and hand it to a 14-person citizens commission.  This commission is to consist of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, as well as some non-affiliated California voters.  The goal is to end gerrymandering that carves so much of  California into safe Democratic and Republican seats.  The impact (and success of this idea) will not be fully known until the new district lines are drawn.  At the very least, Republicans don’t have to feel so bad about losing the governorship to Jerry Brown, since his hand in redistricting has been nullified.

Budget Vote Requirement - California’s budget and fiscal health has been notoriously dysfunctional.  With the approval of Proposition 25, the state legislature will require just a simple majority (as opposed to the current 2/3 supermajority) to pass a budget.  The one exception is if new tax rises are included.  This proposition has the potential to loosen up some of California’s paralysis, but that remains to be seen.

Secret Union Ballot - In Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah, voters approved by wide margins initiatives to preserve the secret ballot for unions.  Clearly a preemptive strike should Democrats try to resurrect card check.

Rhode Island is Named What? - Perhaps the strangest yet important ballot initiative of the election was the question of renaming the state of Rhode Island, or rather the “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.”  Seems some people are offended by the very term “plantation,” for its past association with slavery.  Nonetheless, common sense prevailed and political correctness failed with a vote of 78-22 to keep the historic official name of the state.

My Midterm Musings November 2, 2010

Posted by SV in Democracy, Politics, Republican Party, Uncategorized.
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No election day would be complete without my underqualified analysis and predictions on the day’s outcome.  I have been a poll-junkie over the past several months, and have read up on as many House and Senate races as I could.  It will be no surprise that Republicans will have a very good night, the question has just become how much of one it will be.  The GOP will almost certainly retake the House, and pick up a minimum of 7 Senate seats, possibly as many as 9.  So without further ado, here are some of my predictions and races to watch:

Final Senate Tally: Net gain of 8 seats

Final House Tally: Net gain of 57 seats

Senate
Critical GOP Gains: Illinois, Colorado, Nevada - If Republicans can pick off President Obama’s old Senate seat, it will be a huge morale victory and portend big gains in the Great Lakes region.  GOP candidates are already doing very well in every state bordering Illinois (WI, IA, IN, KY, and MO), so Mark Kirk has a better than even shot of pulling this off.  Colorado’s GOP candidate, Ken Buck, has seen his margin in the polls tighten over the past month, but his lead has been consistent.  Assuming the Colorado gubernatorial debacle does not peel away votes from him, he should pull off a narrow victory.  Few Senate races have gotten as much media attention, or outside money, as Sharron Angle’s bid to upset Senator Harry Reid in Nevada.  Although this race has been within the margin of error for months, expect Reid to be narrowly defeated by night’s end.

Longest Wait: Alaska - In all likelihood, the final results of the Alaska Senate race will not be known for days, or even weeks, after voting ends tonight.  The 3-way contest between Republican Joe Miller, Democrat Scott McAdams, and Republican-running-as-an-independent-write-in Lisa Murkowski (the current senator who lost her primary), has been a roller coaster.  Miller, who enjoyed a lead for months, has seen his support slip as moderates and Republicans flock to Murkowski.  My prediction is that Murkowski will come in first, Miller in second, and McAdams in third.  However, many of her write-in votes may be invalidated by the courts, so this could be a replay of the Minnesota senate contest two years ago.

Biggest Open-Seat Blowout for Democrat: Delaware – Delaware Republicans nominated an unelectable conservative in their deep blue state.  Democrat Chris Coons will walk away with this one by at least 15 points.

Biggest Open-Seat Blowout for Republican: North Dakota - Next to only the Kansas and Utah races, this one has the best chance of the Republican, the popular governor John Hoeven, crossing the 70% threshold.

Biggest Surprise of the Night: Republican John Rease wins in West Virginia - The Mountaineers are traditionally Democratic but have backed Republicans in the past several presidential elections.  The Democrat running to fill Robert Byrd’s old seat, Governor Joe Manchin, boasts a popularity rate above 60%.  His GOP rival is a successful businessman, but he has a favorable rating far below the governor.   If West Virginians elect Raese, it will clearly be a signal that they are deeply dissatisfied with President Obama’s agenda.  If they elect Manchin, it will also be a signal that they are deeply dissatisfied with the ruling party (witness his ad where he shoots a copy of the Cap and Trade bill).  Expect Manchin to be the most conservative Democrat in the chamber.

Don’t Count Them Out: Fiorina in CA and Rossi in WA – Although both of these candidates are down in the polls, their challenges have become the toughest incumbents Barbara Boxer (CA) and Patty Murray (WA) have yet faced.  California’s contest will hinge on turnout (Democratic likely to be higher here than in the rest of the country due to the marijuana initiative) and the fallout from the tumultuous governor’s race.  While Rossi has come within striking distance of Murray, it may be too little too late.  Almost all of Washington votes by absentee ballot or early voting, so the contest was likely decided over the past couple weeks.

House

Bellweather for Anti-Incumbency: Barletta Beats Kanjorski in PA - In 2008, Democrat Paul Kanjorski (PA-11) was reelected to his 13th term with just 52% of the vote.  President Obama carried the district by a much wider margin.  If Republican Lou Barletta pulls off the upset, it could well be a signal that voters across the country are willing to vote out their own long-serving representatives, even though their seniority often brings influence and federal dollars to the district.

Bellweather for Northeast Comeback: Hanna Knocks Off Arcuri in NY - Democrat Michael Arcuri (NY-24) won his second term in 2008 with just 52%.  The district he represents has a slight Republican registration advantage.  Currently only 2 members of New York’s 29 House districts are Republicans.  If the GOP is to have any hope of establishing a firm foothold in the majority, it will have to wrest away seats like this in the northeast that flipped in 2006 and 2008 to Democrats.  Republicans cannot hope to have a lasting majority if they are locked out of the 3rd biggest state in the country (Texas by contrast has 12 Democrats to 20 Republicans).

Campaign Strategy: Perriello vs. Hurt in VA - In 2008, Democrat Tom Perriello (VA-5) was elected to an open seat by a margin in the hundreds of votes.  Since then he has become a vocal and consistent supporter of President Obama’s agenda.  This has hurt him in a district where Republicans have a 5-point registration advantage.  In 2008 he was able to draw on the support of UVA students and Charlottesville liberals.  If they do not turn out this year, he is sunk.  He has become the only representative to bring President Obama to campaign specifically for his district.  While most Democrats are running away from their leader, Perriello is embracing him.  If he wins, Democrats will be emboldened to run strongly on their record in 2012.  If he loses, they may become more timid in their support of the President’s agenda. 

Biggest Surprise of the Night: Charles Djou Holds on in HI - While Republicans have occasionally held the governorship in Hawaii, they have been virtually locked out of the congressional delegations.  When Neil Abercrombie retired to run for governor, Republican Charles Djou won his seat in a special election, helped by the fact that two Democrats remained in the race.  Although at the time many assumed he would serve a short stint in Congress, polls have him within the margin of error to his one opponent this time.  Either for lack of Democratic enthusiasm, or just Hawaiians wanting to give him a shot at a full term, there is a slight chance Djou may pull this race off.

Primaries and a New Rise of Antiestablishmentarianism May 21, 2010

Posted by SV in Democracy, Politics, President Obama, Republican Party, Uncategorized.
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Tuesday’s primaries were surely a preview of things to come in November – unpredictability, anti-incumbency, and polarization.  The hammer of populist rancor and antiestablishmentarianism fell equally on Republicans and Democrats, and Republicans-turned-Democrats.  Both as a result of the primaries and the special election that took place in Pennsylvania, it appears that the tsunami of 2010 may be a more modest tidal wave than was previously anticipated.

First, a brief look at the races starting with the Keystone state.  In the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, Joe Sestak, a relatively unknown 2-term U.S. congressman, unseated incumbent Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter.  Specter was known for his moderate views and independence from party over his 30-year career, which often mirrored the positions of PA voters.  According to CQ, Specter and Sestak both voted with President Obama and the Democratic leadership over 95% of the time in 2009.  So what accounts for the primary voters’ abandonment of Specter, who was endorsed by the governor and the President?  Part of it was this anti-incumbent phenomenon, but part of it must also be attributed to the fact that there wasn’t much difference between the two candidates, and the energetic and younger Sestak tirelessly pointed back to Specter’s three decades as a Republican.  It will be interesting to see whether Sestak can continue his anti-establishment campaign while he holds a congressional seat in the face of Pat Toomey’s challenge.

The special election in PA’s 12th congressional district, to replace the late John Murtha, was equally significant.  In a district where largely conservative voters hold a Democratic registration advantage of 2 to 1 over Republicans, Democrat Mark Critz won by a small margin.  He did this by running to the right, saying he would have voted against the health care bill, cap and trade, and other unpopular bills.  It did, however, provide a blueprint for those Blue Dog Democrats fighting to hold onto their seats – come out strongly against the administration’s agenda and focus on local issues so as not to nationalize the race.  Whether this will be successful remains to be seen, but it may thwart Republican prospects of capturing the 40 seats needed to retake control of the House of Representatives.

The Kentucky race was probably the most fascinating of the evening.  Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, backed by moderate Republicans and the GOP establishment, was crushed by over twenty points by his Tea Party rival, Rand Paul (son of long-shot presidential contender Ron Paul).  A self-described libertarian, Paul ran a relentless anti-establishment campaign (he has never held public office) against the pragmatic conservative Grayson.  In this action Kentucky primary voters effectively devoured one of their own to nominate someone with pure ideological credentials – someone who probably belongs in the Libertarian Party more than the Republican Party.  The fact that Paul had to spend the first day of the general election campaign defending his position on the Civil Rights Act with theoretical arguments spells trouble for his prospects in November, as Michael Gerson of the Washington Post makes clear here.  I will go out on a limb and opine that the KY primary has effectively killed the GOP’s slim chances of winning 10 seats and retaking the Senate in November.

Both parties are eating their own in the search for ideologically pure candidates

In Arkansas, the primary was much less conclusive.  Three-term incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln narrowly edged her liberal opponent, but she was still below 50%, which forces the contest into a runoff in early June.  Her opponent, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, criticized her not only for her moderate views but also on an anti-establishment, anti-incumbent platform.  Lincoln, who was already considered one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrats in November, may pull it out in June but is unlikely to repeat the miracle in November.

So what is the lesson from the elections on Tuesday (and the Utah GOP convention last month)?  It seems to be that moderates and incumbents, regardless of party, will be persecuted in November.  If a candidate did not always support or always oppose the President, voters will be more inclined to send them packing, branding them as too establishment to represent their constituents.  This spells trouble not so much for the parties as for the nation as a whole.

Pure ideologues have their role to play in our political system, but it has never been the dominant role.  Partisan voting has its advantages on certain issues, but not the critically important ones such as national security (conflicts, treaties) or domestic policy (health care, energy policy).  While some of this is the fault of liberal over-reach in Congress and the White House, the remedy is not to elect hyper-partisan (or libertarian) politicians.  If the Democrats wish to lend permanency to their legislative accomplishments, they will have to retain the moderate forces within their party to hold valuable seats in the South and West.  If the Republicans wish to roll-back some of the more egregious excesses of the Obama Administration, they will have to retain their own moderates to hold or win valuable seats in the Northeast, Southwest, and Midwest.  Antiestablishmentarianism is attractive when voters are seeking to “throw the bums out,” but the parties and candidates are playing with fire – to be effective, they not only have to be capable of running against Washington but also of mastering it in order to govern.  Otherwise they will quickly become the “bums” they so recently evicted.

The F-22 Raptor Suffers Friendly Fire July 21, 2009

Posted by SV in China, Iran, Politics, Russia, U.S. Budget, U.S. Government.
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Perhaps you were not aware of it, but today was a great day for Russia and China.  The party elites and defense establishments in Moscow and Beijing surely looked on with glee as the Senate voted 58-40 in favor of the McCain-Levin amendment to halt production of the F-22 Raptor at 187 planes.  This contrasted with the House defense authorization bill which allotted funding for an additional 7 of the $150 million planes.  The bill will now have to go to conference committee for the House and Senate to work out their differences between the bills.

The opponents of the F-22 make three main charges – that the jet costs too much, is not being used in Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the money could be better spent on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Though the pricetag of the jet is significant (around $150 million), it is a lot of bang for the buck.  It is literally the only fifth-generation fighter that is operational and ready-for-use today.  Its capabilities are through the roof – stealth that reduces its radar signature substantially, the ability to cruise at high speeds and high altitudes, and a maneuverability and advanced avionics that allow it to outfight any jet in the world.  Though the $1.5 billion for the additional jets may seem like a lot in a time of deficit spending (but compare it to the stimulus or auto bailout for some perspective), it is necessary to keep the expertise and suppliers available for future fighter production.  If the F-22 assembly line is shut down, valuable engineering skills and unique material suppliers will scatter to different employers or go out of business, making a reversal of this decision very difficult.  Given the long amount of lead time in government defense contracts (the F-22 was 20 years in the works), shutting down production would spell the end of the quick replacement ability necessary for unforeseen contingencies.

The charge that the Raptor is not being used in Iraq or Afghanistan, made especially by Senator McCain, is true but misleading.  McCain is suffering from this-war-itis as he charges defense contractors with “next-war-itis.”  The F-22 is designed primarily for air superiority missions.  Obviously insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have no air force or contested airspace.  But Iran, thanks to Russian suppliers, is equipped both with Russian-modified jets and surface-to-air missiles.  If a strike was deemed necessary to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program, a jet like the F-22 would be necessary to supress enemy air forces and destroy anti-aircraft installations before the strike fighters would fly in.  Beyond that, the F-22 chiefly serves to deter conventional aggression by China and Russia.  Since those nations may be at least a decade away from fielding their own fifth-generation fighters, the American Raptor force serves as a reminder that they would be denied air superiority in any future conflicts over Eastern Europe or Taiwan.

Many F-22 detractors also claim that the money for additional planes would be better spent on funding the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which every branch of the military will field, as well as many U.S. allies.  The F-35, though also a fifth generation stealth jet, is not designed for air superiority missions and is not as maneuverable or able to travel at the same speeds or altitudes as the F-22.  Moreover, the F-35 will not be operational on a significant scale for at least a couple of years (once the assembly lines reach full capacity, they will be able to produce approximately 350 planes a year).  The F-22 and F-35 are a great “team” due to synergy – by having a mix of both planes, they are more effective and less are needed overall.  Emphasizing the F-35 too much while the F-22 is kept at a small force (less than half what the Air Force deems necessary) will reduce the overall potential effectiveness of the U.S. Air Force.  For further analysis on the distinction between the F-22 and F-35, see David Centofante’s column here.

The F-22, a perennial punching bag, was beaten today, not by enemy air forces, but by a misguided United States Senate.  Part of it may be a lack of public understanding about the Raptor’s importance, as a highlighted in this earlier post.  Part of it is surely a knee-jerk distrust of big government contracts and expensive defense systems (witness the recent fate of missile defense).  But most of it is a lack of leadership on the part of U.S. politicians.  Too concerned with spending money that will benefit them (or their districts) immediately, they are neglecting the long-term health and vitality of the country.  Also, they are far too negligent about the capabilities and intentions of our adversaries in Moscow and Beijing.  After all, if a defense amendment is going to benefit Russians and Chinese, shouldn’t a good leader question its prudence?

F-22 Raptor, air dominance achieved

Obamania the Day After November 6, 2008

Posted by Adam Nowland in Election 2008, Politics, President Bush, President Obama, Republican Party, U.S. Government.
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Congratulations, Democrats.  After eight years, you and your party have seized control of the White House with Senator Barack Obama’s victory over Republican Senator John McCain on Tuesday.  Throw this in with your increased majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and you must feel like you are flying on top of the world.  In fact, with all the outpouring of love for America expressed since the election, you may very well be doing just that.  Just think of the circumstances.  The first black American President?  Check.  A sweeping endorsement of liberal control of the country?  Check.  Your biggest opponent, the hated GOP, reeling and searching for answers?  Check. 

                So break out the glasses and pop open the bubbly – after all, nothing can stand in your way now, right?  Now is the time to push for social equality, increase taxes on the rich and give generously to the poor.  Pack the Supreme Court with liberal-minded judges who will uphold Roe v. Wade and stop pesky Justices like Scalia and Roberts in their tracks.  Now that Bush is gone, we can bring home the soldiers to well-earned confetti and parades, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in one fell swoop.  After all, if we’re not over there, the problem should take care of itself, right?  Now is the time for Obama to start implementing all those wonderful promises he made while crisscrossing the nation over the last few months, correct?

                Not quite. 

 

There are a number of reasons why Democrats and other liberals will be disappointed during Obama’s initial work in the Oval Office. (more…)

Rebirth of the Phoenix: A Republican Strategy to Retaking Congress and the White House November 5, 2008

Posted by SV in Election 2008, Immigration, Politics, President Obama, Republican Party.
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Yesterday’s election saw a shake-up of the electoral map beyond what most pundits had predicted would happen. Obama broke the GOP clutch on the “Solid South,” expanded the Democrat’s territory into the Mid-Atlantic states, solidified the upper Midwest, and split open the Republican strongholds of the West. He also brought in a significant number of representatives from reliably red districts on his coattails. In response to Adam’s discussion of how the GOP can make a “comeback” (to quote David Frum’s book title) and reorient itself to readopt a more traditional and compassionate conservatism, I would like to highlight a geographic strategy that can reverse Republican fortunes and avoid repeating 2006 and 2008 in 2010 or 2012.

The GOP needs to figure out why it lost (and lost big) where it did. Obviously, no party can win everywhere, but the Democrats have exhibited a surprising ability to make significant inroads in traditionally Republican states and districts (Indiana, New Hampshire, Montana). These regions offer the best possibilities of turning the tables on the Democrats.

-New England: this region, until about the middle of the century, was a reliable Republican bastion. Even Nixon (with the exception of MA) and Reagan were able to sweep it in 1972 and 1984. The best strategy towards breaking into “liberal New England” is to stop purging the GOP of officials who don’t toe the party line on every issue, particularly social issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.). It also needs to stop lambasting “intellectualism” and instead make its case logically and honestly to the citizens of New England, who place a high premium on education and philosophical pragmatism. Start in the former Republican states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.

-The Rust Belt: roughly, the string of states from Michigan to Pennsylvania, also at one time reliably red. Jobs and the economy reign supreme in these states (people don’t care about social issues when they are drawing unemployment). McCain had an innovate approach to solving the jobs issue: saying bluntly that manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back and offering a job training program to help people transition to 21st-century jobs that won’t be shipped overseas. If Republican candidates turn this into a centerpiece of their campaigns, it could play very well here. Target the middle class and blue-collar workers in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan to help swing House and Senate seats back to the GOP.

-The West: in particular, states like Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana. The strategy in these states requires an innovative and diverse approach. First of all, the GOP has to make a better case to Hispanic voters why it stands for their interests – support for small businesses, family values, cracking down on crime. It also has to stop playing to the Tom Tancredo-wing of the Republican Party that directs public anger at immigrants attempting to make a living. Radical responses to the illegal immigration issue have become a noose that the Republicans are tightening around themselves. To reverse this trend, the GOP needs to push for a “path to citizenship” approach and encourage teaching children English and Spanish in order to bridge the cultural divide. Also, try to divide the Democrats on this issue, who are pushed by labor unions to resist expanded immigration and guest worker programs. The other big issue that needs emphasized in the West is the environment. This should include adopting a platform of “Green Conservatism” that promotes water conservation, alternative energy (wind corridors in MT, plenty of sun in the Southwest), and stewardship of the environment. Focus on Montana, Colorado, and even California (for House seats) to reestablish GOP presence in this Democratic-trending region.

The strategy outlined here is not a panacea to solve all of the GOP’s problems or even provide electoral victory in 2012. Through emphasizing the issues of pro-intellectualism and pragmatism, job creation, and pro-immigration and green conservatism, the Republican Party could significantly improve the percentage of voters who identify with it. This strategy, while providing a strong plan for offense, would need to be complemented by an equally vigorous effort to shore up Republican support in the South and Midwest. Fortunately, at least one of the major issues highlighted here will play strong in every region of the country. To quote Jesse Ventura in “Predator,” the GOP “ain’t got time to bleed;” it needs to reinvigorate itself immediately. While the path to Republican resurgence lies through a philosophical renaissance, the road to electoral victory lies in bringing these new ideas and positions to Concord, Cleveland, and Carson City.

Up From the Ashes – The Republican Party’s Chance for a Renewed Lease on Life November 5, 2008

Posted by Adam Nowland in Democracy, Politics, President Bush, President Obama, U.S. Foreign Relations, U.S. Government.
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As Americans wake on the morning of November 5th, they awake in a country on the verge of a new era.  With the landslide victory of President-elect Barack Obama, who enters office with significant majorities in both the House and the Senate, Americans have spoken, and spoken loudly.  The Republican administration of lame-duck President George W. Bush has been swept from office as U.S. citizens voiced their concerns that the GOP was no longer in touch with the average American.

                However, despite the humiliating defeat, the Republican Party is far from dead.  Indeed, in the long run, a crushing defeat at the hands of Obama and his allies may be exactly what the GOP needs to spring back into national power.  Although the defeat and future power seem contradictory, one realizes that the idea isn’t so far-fetched when we recall how far astray from its “roots” the Republican leadership has gone over the last eight years.  Abandoning the old mainstays of fiscal responsibility, small government, and increased rights to private individuals, the GOP in many respects had become the thing it feared most – the Democratic Party.  For all intents and purposes, the parties, at least in Congress, had become indistinguishable.  By assuming power, the Republicans in Congress and the White House permitted absolute power, especially in the wake of broad support following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, to transform them into big government, drunk on power and unlimited funding.  By forsaking their roots, the Republicans set the stage for the major upsets in the last two elections.

                But now that they are removed from power, the Republican Party and its leaders can return to what made them popular in the first place.  The environment for a victory in two years in the next national election is perfect for conservatives, who, if they play their cards right and get a little help from the Democrats, could provide a stunning comeback.  Let’s take a look at the opportunities:

-              An inexperienced, untested President taking office with enormous expectations.  Republicans must exploit any mistakes by Obama in his first months in office.  If Obama opens negotiations with Iran, or backpedals in the face of pressure from North Korea, China, Russia, or Venezuela, the GOP has a fantastic opportunity to show that Obama is weak when it comes to foreign policy.  Likewise, the domestic decisions that Obama makes in his first two years as president could have significant ramifications for the economy, the health system, and social policy, and he must tread lightly and ignore the obvious mistake of liberalizing too much too quickly, or he and his party will quickly burn through the political currency they gained yesterday.

-              A faltering economy.  The overwhelming focus of voters, the economy continues to struggle while the government seems helpless to solve the credit crunch, the enormous (and crippling) housing mortgage crisis, and a slipping dollar.  The country may be on the verge of significant inflation, yet the government continues to find new ways to pour money into the economy.  Obama plans sweeping tax changes and has promised to pour upwards of sixty billion dollars into the nation’s infrastructure.  Unfortunately, the United States probably can’t afford such action, at least not now. 

-              Increasing domestic divisiveness.  Socially, conservatives and liberals in the United States continue to go their separate ways.  Obama takes office with a significant portion of the country extremely distrustful of his motives and potential (which is nothing new for any president).  However, he will have to be careful not to offend large segments of voters, or, like the 2006 national elections, citizens will treat him as they treated President Bush and his unpopular Iraq War.

-              A global security nightmare.  War in the Congo.  Continued crisis in Dafur.  An aggressive Russia unresponsive to global scrutiny.  A war going well in Iraq.  A war not going well in Afghanistan.  Osama bin Laden still unaccounted for.  Mr. Obama must find ways to protect Americans from a second 9/11.  However, he must also judiciously approach foreign crises as well.  The United States is uniquely prepared to go into other countries to stop calamities like genocide or famine.  Obama must continue the United State’s role as a global policeman while still avoiding getting mired in another long war in a country that doesn’t fully support our own end goals.

                All these issues point clearly to opportunities for the Republican Party to seize on mistakes by the Obama administration and his supporters in Congress.  A major mishandling of a crisis by Obama would go a long way to bringing the GOP back into power.  However, Republicans must also reinvent their image as a party of the people, rather than a party of the government.  If they can project a new understanding of responsibility and empathy, they should be poised, at the very least, to take back some of the lost seats of Congress.  I suggest three ways to help the Republicans get back on track.

                First, the Republican Party must recreate themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility.  This is a no-brainer.  The Bush administration has become famous for its liberal spending policies, which inevitably led to increased government debt and certainly did not help the country avoid the recession that even now wracks the economy.  This spending is not reminiscent of your grandparents’ Republican party.  With nearly every state struggling economically, schools scrambling to make ends meet, and individuals watching their savings dissolve, it is shocking that Americans have so little faith in Republicans that they turn to a party that is known for its spending excess.  The GOP CANNOT miss this golden opportunity to push towards decreased government.  People don’t want to spend more money on taxes – they want to save and have the government help provide things like education, energy, and infrastructure.  Resume the push for small government and fiscal responsibility, and the Republicans will have taken a major step towards success.

                Second, the GOP must begin rebuilding bridges with the media.  Yes, everyone knows that the media is indeed biased (except, it seems, the media itself), but news outlets continue to hold enormous sway over voters.  Indeed, it is a testament that President Bush was able to be elected despite extreme negative treatment by the media.  Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, was incredibly popular with news organizations, and he used those ties to his advantage.  While pandering to the media is not an activity the GOP would like to do, it cannot escape the fact that it will not be successful unless it can somehow gain respect, if not love, from media outlets.  There is no doubt that Barack Obama was a media darling during the 2008 elections.  Republicans must pull a page from the Democrats’ book and use the media as a tool to achieve success, rather than battle reporters and cameras at every outlet.

                Finally, and most importantly, the GOP must show that it is a party of and for the people.  Too many people criticize Republicans for being aloof and “above” the average citizen.  Democrats got involved with the people who would vote for them and got their hands dirty campaigning.  Republicans recently have failed to engage voters on a personal level, showing that they understand the economic and social woes of the everyday family.  Without this personal engagement and a clear understanding of what most people are going through, or knowing what the goals and beliefs of the average citizen are, the Republicans cannot gain the support of voters.  Rectifying this problem would be a significant achievement.

               While Republicans are (and should be) disappointed by the results of the 2008 election, there is hope on the horizon.  The GOP must seize on Democratic mistakes and effectively take the place of the Democratic Party as the political entity most in touch with voters.  By taking advantage of knowing WHY they lost this election, the Republican Party can set itself up to avoid another failure in 2010.

President Obama – Senator Barack Obama Takes White House November 4, 2008

Posted by Adam Nowland in Election 2008, Politics, President Bush, President Obama, U.S. Government.
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To the exuberant celebration of Democrats and liberals across the United States, and to the dismay of conservatives around the country, Senator Barack Obama (D – Illinois), the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, swept into power November 4th, defeating his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain (R – Arizona).  As polls around the country closed Tuesday evening, the major news networks wasted no time declaring state after state for Obama and his running mate, Senator Joe Biden (D – Delaware).  Preliminary data indicated that President-elect Obama would have no problem reaching the number of electoral votes required to seal his victory, a result which likely surprised very few of the pundits and analysts deciphering polls and results.

                After eight tumultuous years under the administration of President George W. Bush, many Americans were ready for a new direction, and eagerly snapped up Obama’s campaign slogan “Change We Can Believe In,” hoping that electing a liberal Democrat would help stem the tide of anti-American sentiment sweeping the globe and help solve a myriad of other problems ravaging the country.  Bush’s administration oversaw two seemingly endless and unpopular wars in Asia, watched as the global economy entered its worst struggle in years, and angered many millions of people around the globe by taking what was regarded as a unilateral approach in American foreign policy, taking significant action in other parts of the globe without seeking the consultation or assistance of other nations.

                The result was a President with the lowest approval rating of his time in office, and indeed one of the worst approval ratings of any recent Commander-in-Chief.  Similarly, the U.S. Congress has been saddled with an approval rating of barely half of that of the President, shocking when one considers the unpopularity of President Bush, and even more shocking when one remembers that it is controlled not by the Republicans, but Democrats.  Even the most casual observer of the American government can conclude that voters are fed up with the way the government is being run.  Regardless of one’s views of the effectiveness of the current administration and Congress, it is clear that those men and women entering office in 2009 face substantial, if not overwhelming, challenges.

                Indeed, it is a significant show of faith on the part of voters to elect a President who has yet to complete even a single term of office as a senator, and one who brings a considerable lack of experience as well as tremendous expectations with him to the Oval Office.  Obama holds the distinction of becoming the first African-American to ever hold the country’s highest office, a major step forwards for minorities in the United States, but he will be under close scrutiny from both those who voted for him and those who opposed him.  Obama must demonstrate that he can effectively do the job of leading the world’s greatest nation, and prove that he was justifiably elected because of his abilities and not just because people saw his race as a chance to vote for something different.  Obama is smart enough to put race behind him all together, but there are still enormous numbers of Americans who voted for him simply because he was black, or against him for the same reason.  Each of those votes for or against was a form of racism in and of themselves, and Obama must rise above such a dangerous idea.

                In addition to his achievement of being the first black man to be elected President, Obama will also have to face the challenging problems of the economy, the national deficit, America’s declining status in global policy-making and popularity, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, problems with the national health system, Social Security, and the all-encompassing “War on Terror.”  Each of these problems is significant, and most cannot be controlled singularly from the White House.  Obama has the support of a heavily Democratic Congress, which will enable him to accomplish a great deal for at least two years, if not more, but such power is also a curse.  The President-elect will have no excuses if he cannot find solutions for many of these problems.  In fact, Obama runs the risk of making some of these problems worse by tampering with plans that are already in the works.  For example, then-Senator Obama strongly opposed the Iraq “surge” when more American troops were sent to the Middle East to help secure the new Iraqi government.  Mr. Obama’s fears proved to be false when the surge was decidedly effective, but if he chooses to immediately draw down American forces to appease his electors upon taking office, the situation in the tentatively quiet region could again spiral out of control.  Obama will need to tread cautiously, as American voters give their elected officials short leashes, and could very easily vote Mr. Obama out in four years if his proposed plans don’t create visible results.

                President-elect Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of “change,” a tangible object or idea that Americans apparently desperately needed and wanted.  Time will tell if Obama’s guarantees of something that breaks from “business as usual” in Washington are true, or if his words are just another fantasy in the land of fairy tales.  Obama faces a difficult road ahead, and the margin of his victory and the amount of support he has as he takes office will only add to his struggles if he fails to produce.  The American voters have spoken, and they have marched to the byword of “change.”  Let us as citizens hope that this change isn’t just believable, but that it truly is necessary – and effective –  as well.

Of Bombthrowers and Bicycles March 6, 2008

Posted by SV in Election 2008, Homeland Security, Politics, Terrorism.
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On 4 May 1886, an unknown demonstrator threw a bomb at police during a confrontation with striking workers.  Ever since, the “bombthrower” has been a label applied to anarchists and extremists in the American political spectrum who have either engaged in rhetoric “over the line” or actually performed violence against their opponents.  On Tuesday, 6 March 2008 at 3:45 am an (as yet) unidentified person, likely on a bicycle, threw a bomb at the military recruiting office at Times Square, damaging the building but injuring no one; for the developing story, see here: cnn.story.

The bombing bears none of the hallmarks of an al Qaeda attack (which would certainly have targeted populated places at a busier time of day), but is a quintessential anarchist or far-far left (or far-far right, for that matter) tactic.  The recruiting office, the site of numerous protests, is located in the middle of Times Square and therefore viewed by many anti-military people in NYC as an affront to their fair city.  In fact, what this incident makes clear is that the radical and harsh anti-war rhetoric of the far left has finally caused the bombthrowers to take matters into their own hands.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for all his eccentricities,  stated quite correctly that this was an attack on the American military and all those serving in it.  What this event will (hopefully) lead to will be both a reduction in rhetoric and less reliance on meaningless slogans by critics of the war.  For instance, those who state they “support the troops” (but hate the war) will have to roundly condemn this event and the attitudes and ideas that motivated it.  It should also have the effect of forcing those anti-war pundits and politicians to back up their words with actions – they should dissuade opponents of the war from such terroristic acts and from exhibiting hatred at the US military – which after all must serve where and when the commander-in-chief directs them.

Whether or not this incident will lead to a change in attitudes or ideas among the anti-war left remains to be seen – I have my doubts.  The closet bombthrowers have been boiling for over 5 years and cannot wait for President Bush’s term to draw to a close.  One can only imagine what they may do if McCain is elected this November and they have to deal with a veteran in the White House.  Unless there is a major effort among the anti-war elites to denounce these tactics and remain a peaceful philosophy, and a corresponding effort by the pro-war right to civilly debate their opponents’ views, the situation will likely deteriorate.  A return to civility in politics is therefore likely the best method to marginalizing these extremists and preventing such radicals from engaging in violence.

Next Time, Don’t Choose Guns And Butter March 12, 2007

Posted by SV in Democracy, Politics, U.S. Government.
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In the midst of the conflict in Iraq, it would seem to be a bad time to draw “conclusions” that the struggle has taught us. Looking from a historical perspective however, there are certain lessons that seem to have been ignored over the past couple decades. While they could be instructive for a future war (perhaps against Iran), it is most likely too late to implement the policy in Iraq, when the war has reached an all time low popularity.

The fact of the matter is that Americans as a whole have not been asked or have not made a significant sacrifice in the past several years to help the war effort (with the notable exception of soldiers and their families).  Politicians’ infatuation with an all-volunteer army has led them to believe that there needs to be no unpleasantries during war, such as a draft, rationing, or mobilization.  They couldn’t be more long.  War is more than just a serious matter, it often dictates whether a nation will strengthen or weaken.

Lyndon Johnson pursued a policy in Vietnam that sought to fight a full-scale war while limiting the impact felt by most Americans.  In fact, he attempted to pursue a great expansion of the welfare state in his Great Society program.  In effect, he chose guns and butter, with the unfortunate effect that the American economy was still consumer oriented and the war dragged on another half-decade.

The same can be said of President Bush’s policy towards Iraq and the War on Terror in general.  Rather than mobilize the American people and economy, the president has chosen to limit the impact to such an extent that people live just like it were peacetime, and in many cases better than it has been in recent decades of peacetime.  Leaders pursue this policy because they believe the people will become restless or opposed to the war if it has an everyday impact on their lives.  It has been demonstrated however, both in Vietnam and Iraq, that a war (even if it starts out popular), is never popular with the American people if it goes on for a long time and victory is not clear and tangible.

Had the United States been fully mobilized as the Iraq War began, it is likely victory would have been unquestionably achieved by now.  However, the time for that has passed, but a possible conflict with Iran, North Korea, China, or any other host of potential nations would require that the American people mobilize for war.  Such an effort, involving conversion of consumer industries to war material industries, rationing of gasoline/oil and other commodities, and voluntary expansion of the armed forces, could lead to victory in a tolerable amount of time.

So clearly the best course of action in the future is not to attempt to achieve the illusion of waging limited war while non-defense spending remains the same or grows (currently the defense budget of the GDP is 3.8%, compared to 38% at height of WWII).  The lesson is to choose guns before and during a time of war, followed by butter in a time of peace.

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