Still Talking Without Walking.

NEW SLAUGHTERPost-election, it has been a slow news month. That’s the only explanation for the breathless anxiety the media has given the fiscal cliff “negotiations”. Why anyone thinks this will be resolved until the last possible minute, or until John Boehner concocts a scheme whereby a majority of his caucus doesn’t have to vote “yes” on increased tax rates for 2% of the population would mystify me if I didn’t understand that the news media needs a conflict better than, oh I don’t know, conservatives’ scheduled/annual/rote indignation over the “War on Christmas”.

The gridlock over this one — which, like the election, Obama will eventually win handily — reminds me again of one of the better analyses of the current conservative malaise, or dysfunction, or bat-shittiness that appeared after the November 6 smackdown. (BTW, my prediction of Obama winning by 1.5% and just under 300 electoral votes has now been downgraded from a B+ to a B- as votes continue to be counted. As of today Obama’s popular vote margin is pushing 4%, which along with years of polling on tax reform, explains his confidence in the next bitch-slapping Republicans are about to take.)

The piece was National Review writer Ramesh Ponnuru’s, “The Party’s Problem”. For the unaware the young Mr. Ponnuru holds a kind of William Buckley-lite standing among what passes for thinking conservatives today.

A collection of quotes forming the gist of Ponnuru’s take:

Romney was not a drag on the Republican party. The Republican party was a drag on him. …

The Iraq War, the financial crisis, and other issues specific to the late Bush years obviously did play a huge role in the 2006 and 2008 defeats. But it’s also true that Republicans weren’t even arguing that they had a domestic agenda that would yield any direct benefits for most voters, and that has to have hurt them. Taxes had been the most powerful economic issue for Republicans for a generation, but Republicans misunderstood why. In the ’80s and ’90s, Republicans ran five presidential campaigns promising to make or keep middle-class taxes lower than they would be under Democrats, and won four of them. In 2008 they made no such promise but did say they would lower the corporate tax rate. …

The absence of a middle-class message was the biggest failure of the Romney campaign, and it was not its failure alone. Down-ticket Republican candidates weren’t offering anything more — not the established Republicans, not the tea-partiers, not the social conservatives. … The Republican story about how societies prosper — not just the Romney story — dwelt on the heroic entrepreneur stifled by taxes and regulations: an important story with which most people do not identify. The ordinary person does not see himself as a great innovator. He, or she, is trying to make a living and support or maybe start a family. A conservative reform of our health-care system and tax code, among other institutions, might help with these goals. About this person, however, Republicans have had little to say.”

The business about the Republican message being built around this mostly mythical laser-focused “small business” entrepreneur, not a guy just making a living, but someone ostensibly and obsessively laser-focused on creating the next Apple, (or, if you’re a conservative, the next Monsanto), is rich for a deeper dialogue. (Some people want to do more with their lives than make a gob of money.) But as Ponnuru implies, there’s quite a bit of doubt that the Republican party, as presently constructed and controlled, has any ability left with which to search its soul and take action on its worst flaws. (Mainly because every remedy will be attacked by the “conservative entertainment complex” as “liberalizing” true conservatism, whether the issue is getting sensible about immigration, or more sophisticated about foreign affairs strategies or, god forbid, conceding a minor uptick in tax rates for “small business” entrepreneurs, you know, like hedge fund traders and Bain-style leverage capitalists).

But what struck me most about Ponnuru’s generally thoughtful analyses was that it was really all about …messaging. About how important it is to talk differently about essentially the same policy positions that clearly aren’t appealing to young people, women, minorities and “Reagan Democrats” (i.e. northern blue-collar white males).

Ponnuru, at least in this piece, chooses not to address what I believe a fat chunk of the population sees first and foremost when it looks at the modern Republican party. Namely, that “these guys haven’t done jack shit for me.” Put another way, the Republican message today is all message and no substance. There’s nothing real and tangible undergirding any of it, certainly nothing that has any “reality-based” value to a majority of the middle class. The Texan variation on this is, of course: “All hat, no cattle.”

The GOP’s bubble world/echo chamber factor is blatantly obvious every time Boehner or McConnell steps up to the microphone and serves up a fiscal cliff “plan” devoid of anything remotely resembling specifics. Their latest “offer”, out yesterday, essentially listed $500 billion in cuts under the heading of “from somewhere … to be decided later”. This from the party who, you remember, once put out another budget plan … that had no numbers in it.

Point being, the only people who continue to think this stuff is valid, serious and effective are the same crazies who forced the party into a primary season fiasco of beyond-parody, self-serving political grifters (Trump, Cain, Bachmann, Perry) and pushed their one viable candidate, Romney, into fringe rhetoric that rendered him toxic to the coalition he needed to win.

Like a baseball team that has suffered yet another embarrassing losing season, Republicans would be well-advised to concede that they have no choice but to go into “rebuilding”mode, which would mean giving up on the once upon a time “can’t miss” rookies who became undisciplined, counter-productive head-cases, and accept that a better path back to contention is by sticking to the basics, like, you know, legislation that serves the majority first.

36 thoughts on “Still Talking Without Walking.

  1. bertram jr. says:

    Sorry, too busy watching for Bob Costas’ deep thoughts on the Syria situation.

    Why don’t you take that little Costas MNF snafu on for a piece?

    Narcissists Blathering Confoundingly = NBC

    1. Bertram,my man, you sound as though your barrel is maybe a bit too well oiled. I passed an Ammo Warehouse in Pahrump, Nevada not so long ago, and thought of you.

  2. Joe Loveland says:

    Agree strongly. I’ve been noticing the same thing about the post mortems. They’re almost all focused on the messaging and the mechanics, not the policies.

    As long as Republicans are selling such a Trumpian set of economic policies, no amount of Luntz thesaurus-mining or GOTV database investments will save them. The economic policies have to change.

    WWRD – What Would Ronnie Do? Jude Waniski, one of the fathers of Reagan-era conservatism, used to preach that if Democrats appeal to voters by proposing more spending, then the Republicans cannot beat them by proposing less spending. He said that GOPers had assume the role of a second neutralizing “Santa Claus” by arguing to cut taxes for the middle class. This political need led to the Laffer curve.

    Politically speaking, Republicans have to get back to promising tax cuts to middle income people. It’s black magic fiscally speaking, but its golden politically speaking. That’s what works for them.

    1. PM says:

      yeah, but…its still the message that they will use to sell the party.

      the problem is that the party is controlled by a small elite of people who either

      1) believe in that randian inspired story about rich solo individual job creators who singlehandedly change the world and should be rewarded adequately (ie, lower taxes for people like me, not for those morons in the middle class who are not job creators) (note that generally those who think this way happen to have drunk this particular koolaid and think that they are indeed job creators to be rewarded with “gifts” from the government)

      2) are professional politicians who earn their keep by getting either themselves of their cronies elected and then proceed to make big bucks by being consultants (Rove) or lobbyists (Gingrich) or talking heads on Fox. Most of those in this group are being paid by people in the former group.

      Hard to see this dynamic changing much in the near term future. Obviously, some GOP’ers will get elected who are not a part of this crowd, and over time will become more successful (or will endure), and their influence will increase. I hope it happens soon–the US could use a real two party system to keep the Democrats honest.

      (of course, that is the other thing that could happen–the Democrats could screw it all up. So far Obama has been remarkably scandal free–but that can’t last forever…can it?)

      1. Erik says:

        Fast and Furious, Solyndra, Benghazi…. Yeah, no scandals.

        It can last a while. The media is an Obama sycophant, and for most Democrats asserting Obama’s infallibility is also an exercise in their complimenting themselves.

    1. My other favorite was Bruce Bartlett’s piece, “Revenge of the Reality Based Community”.

      A couple classic moments:

      I supported George W. Bush in 2000, and many close friends served in high-level administration positions. I was especially close to the Council of Economic Advisers and often wrote columns based on input and suggestions from its chairmen, all of whom were friends of mine. Once I even briefed Vice President Dick Cheney on the economy.

      But as the Bush 43 administration progressed, I developed an increasingly uneasy feeling about its direction. Its tax policy was incoherent, and it had an extremely lackadaisical attitude toward spending. In November 2003, I had an intellectual crisis.

      All during the summer of that year, an expansion of Medicare to pay for prescription drugs for seniors was under discussion. I thought this was a dreadful idea since Medicare was already broke, but I understood that it was very popular politically. I talked myself into believing that Karl Rove was so smart that he had concocted an extremely clever plan—Bush would endorse the new benefit but do nothing to bring competing House and Senate versions of the legislation together. That way he could get credit for supporting a popular new spending program, but it would never actually be enacted.

      I was shocked beyond belief when it turned out that Bush really wanted a massive, budget-busting new entitlement program after all, apparently to buy himself re-election in 2004.

      …In 2004 I got to know the journalist Ron Suskind, whose book The Price of Loyalty I had praised in a column. He and I shared an interest in trying to figure out what made Bush tick. Neither of us ever figured it out.

      A couple of weeks before the 2004 election, Suskind wrote a long article for the New York Times Magazine that quoted some of my comments to him that were highly critical of Bush and the drift of Republican policy. The article is best remembered for his quote from an anonymous White House official dismissing critics like me for being “the reality-based community.”…

      Not one [conservative friend] had read it or cared in the slightest what the New York Times had to say about anything. They all viewed it as having as much credibility as Pravda and a similar political philosophy as well. Some were indignant that I would even suspect them of reading a left-wing rag such as the New York Times.

      I was flabbergasted. Until that moment I had not realized how closed the right-wing mind had become. Even assuming that my friends’ view of the Times’ philosophy was correct, which it most certainly was not, why would they not want to know what their enemy was thinking? This was my first exposure to what has been called “epistemic closure” among conservatives—living in their own bubble where nonsensical ideas circulate with no contradiction.”

  3. Newt says:

    They voted for Santa Claus, and now it’s time for Santa to pay up…

    Detroit City Council member JoAnn Watson said Tuesday the citizens support of Obama in last month’s election was enough reason for the president to bailout the struggling the city. (Click the video player to listen)

    “Our people in an overwhelming way supported the re-election of this president and there ought to be a quid pro quo and you ought to exercise leadership on that,” said Watson. “Of course, not just that, but why not?”

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Now bring us some figgy pudding,
      Now bring us some figgy pudding,
      Now bring us some figgy pudding,
      And bring some out here.

      And we won’t go until we got some,
      We won’t go until we got some,
      We won’t go until we got some,
      So bring some out here.

    2. Newt says:

      Ignore me. Fine.

      But you can’t ignore the on-the-record words of the Detroit City Councilwoman. Call her on your Obama phone.

      1. Newt, I wanna get me one of those Obama phones. I hear they’re pretty slick. I want the one with the out-going message from John McCain accusing ACORN of attacking the consulate in Benghazi.

  4. Newt says:

    Brian – Ann Coulter shares the pertinent election data …

    “More than half of all babies born to Hispanic women today are illegitimate. As Heather MacDonald has shown, the birthrate of Hispanic women is twice that of the rest of the population, and their unwed birthrate is one and a half times that of blacks.
    That’s a lot of government dependents coming down the pike. No amount of “reaching out” to the Hispanic community, effective ‘messaging’ or Reagan’s ‘optimism’ is going to turn Mexico’s underclass into Republicans.”

    We’ll never be able to compete with Dems when it comes to handing out the goodies.

  5. This whole fiscal cliff thing has me bored out of my mind. It’s Y2K all over again, complete with the ticking clock and the media craziness over financial Armageddon. I can hardly wait until Jan. 1 so we can go on to the next crisis du jour cooked up by the tail chasing media.

    This whole cliff thing reminds me of another cliff…..Cliff Clavin of Cheers, the beer drinking, big talking blowhard who so many politicians seem to resemble today.

    From the contstant Campaigner Obama to the spineless people we entrust to actually legislate, it’s all so much of a three-ringed (or is that two ringed) circus.

    Rest assured, these rubes in D.C. will come up with some grotesque concoction of postponing and patching the tax laws and spending cuts into something that further kicks the can down the road for someone else to tackle.

    Meanwhile, our growing unfunded liabilities and national embarrassment of a tax code will remain in place while we are assured with smoke and mirrors that Medicare and Social Security will be fine (liberal pipe dream), that we can grow our way to prosperity with tax cuts (conservative witchcraft) and that out of control spending will resolve itself (liberal/conservative hallucination).

    If this doesn’t happen, we will go into the new year and our so called leaders will vote the problems away “retroactively.”

    As a friend of mine said, letting the car zoom over the cliff would be allowing Americans to face the truth…..little liklihood of that happening.

  6. PM says:


    I agree with you, but with a difference (of course!).

    I agree that the fiscal cliff is really more of a speed bump. There is no real crisis here, and the doom and gloom crowd in the media (as well as the chicken little politicians) are simply trying to keep our attention focused on them (as opposed to the Bama/Irish game).

    Where I differ is that I do not see this false crisis as obscuring.a larger disaster in our fiscal future. I think that things are going to be just fine, with some relatively moderate adjustments–cutting back the entitlement spending a little bit and upping the revenues a bit more, while investing in the things we need to keep the economy growing and healthy.

    Now, will this happen? Sure, it is possible that the can will be kicked down the road a bit, but not all that long ago we did have things in pretty good shape, and we should be able to get back to that kind of a position. I am glad that we have an adult as President, and I am hopeful that this recent election has created the possibility of enough consensus to get us back on track. I continue to see the major obstacle to this to be the GOP, particularly the House GOP. They are a bunch of whackos (look at the recent rejection of the UN treaty on people with disabilities, or Louis Gohmert voting alone to preserve the term lunatic…a self descriptive example if ever there was one!).

    BTW, thanks again for lunch–next time I am buying!

    1. Erik says:

      You’re observation is merely say that crisis or disaster is too strong a word. Fair enough.

      My taxes will go up about $4k *I think* on a gross of about $100k. Much of that is the bite that the child tax credit takes out. This is the filing situation that represents $300 – $500 a month X tens of millions of families.

      The economic downturn might be more dramatic than you think.

      1. PM says:

        Your taxes will not go up if the President is allowed by the house GOP to fulfill his promise that taxes will not go up on those with income of $250,000.00 or less. So, if you live in the third district, call up Eric Paulsen, and tell him to support the President’s position on taxes.

        Even if we go over the “cliff”, I expect that the GOP will join with the President and the Democrats to retroactively restore those credits and rates for people w/ income less than $250,000. I mean, the GOP is in favor of tax cuts, right? They surely won’t sacrifice you for the sake of Sheldon Adelson?

      2. Erik says:

        It’s acceptable to me that the middle class rates be de-linked from the ‘wealthy’ rates. The Republicans are disinclined to delink. But the other thing is, the Democrats have a lot of scorn and hostility for petite bourgeois suburban households. They’d no doubt just as soon sabotage tax relief for that demographic, and the impasse is such that they can do it without having their disingenuousness revealed.

        I don’t expect a deal. The Republicans are getting beaten up, but there are no unsafe Republican seats. Paulsen doesn’t have to fear not compromising. Bachmann doesn’t have to fear not compromising. Kline doesn’t have to fear not compromising.

      3. PM says:

        That is an excellent point about safe GOP seats. You are absolutely right, and this is why the House GOP is so much more conservative than either the Senate GOP or the GOP nationally–you can’t gerrymander a safe Senate or national election like you can a house district.

        The problem for all of those in the safe seats is the same, however–ambition! Bachmann doesn’t want to stay as a house member forever–but she can’t get elected to a higher position with her current politics. So the House GOP can stay conservative and safe, but they will never be able to make national policy–only threaten to blow things up. And that will poison the GOP brand nationally.

        It is a real conundrum, and not one that is good either for the GOP or the country.

      4. Erik says:

        Yea, but there’s not really any conditions or positions that the Republicans can actually move to meet, right? The only thing acceptable to the President is that the Clinton rates be restored, which he can have without a deal. So it’s a bit sly to say that the Republicans are the ones who are intransigent here. They’ve said they’ll give new revenues.

        I mean really…the President and the Democrats don’t have any passion for a middle class tax cut. The internal narrative within the party is that Americans, particularly the middle calls, consume too much and pay too little taxes. A big fat tax hike has long been the preferred remedy for that.

        This is all kabuki / plausible deniability to let the Bush rates on the middle class expire. That’s where the money is.

      5. PM says:

        Erik, that is simply false. Wrong. Bizarre, even.

        Obama has repeatedly called for a continuation of the Bush tax cuts FOR THOSE MAKING LESS THAN $250,000.00/YEAR. He only wants the Clinton tax rates restored FOR THOSE MAKING OVER $250,000.00/YEAR.

        Obama has explicitly called for the de-linking of middle class rates and the rates on the rich–and he has been opposed in this by the GOP. That is where the kabuki theater is–the GOP (and you) want to tie the two together, to paint Obama as wanting to raise taxes on the middle class–when it is clear that he does not want to. He offered to do this a long time ago, and the GOP has rejected this time and again.

        Now that all of the rates are going to automatically expire, the GOP is stuck in a corner–do nothing, and taxes on everyone will rise. The only thing they can do that will pass will be a partial extension of the Bush tax rates–and they are maneuvering in order to only grant rate cuts, not increases–which means that the GOP (in order not to violate grover’s pledge) will wait until all bush tax cuts expire, and then vote on a partial tax cut, only for those under $250,000.00

        (BTW, talking about kabuki theater, what did you think about Mitch McConnell filibustering his own bill on the debt limit?)

      6. Erik says:

        Right, but what he’s promised and what he believes and wants are two different things. Which is why I ask, do any ‘real’ Democrats really believe in middle class tax cuts? Do you?

        It’s fair to say he’s posturing. Like he did with gay marriage, where the hard core party members wanted it and he professed he didn’t. And with taxes here, he’s got some room to posture, because the Republicans are boxed in a bit.

        Precious MSNBC host worries that energy too cheap, Americans will consume too much, wants big fat tax:|utmccn=%28referral%29|utmcmd=referral|utmcct=/id/3032553/ns/politics/&__utmv=-&__utmk=130521997

      7. PM says:

        I had no idea that you were privileged to know the inner hopes, fears and thoughts of the President! and not just the President, but all Democrats!

        Seriously, those are some awfully broad generalizations. Got anything to back it up?

      8. Erik says:

        Sure, 25 years of observing politics as an adult. As I say, it’s the same knowledge base that led me to conclude 4 years ago that the President was being wholly disingenuous on gay marriage. That doesn’t mean I’m a pol sci genius of course. It means this stuff is easy, and your righteous indignation is a bit absurd. Unless you think President was not actually just posturing on gay marriage 4 years ago..

        Do you want a middle class tax cut? Do you think the middle class needs one? Do you think they’re overtaxed?

  7. PM:

    I wish I had more faith that we could face our problems head on and that there is a level of seriousness about confronting them. I do agree that we will be just fine and life will go on. Innovation will continue and economic life will move forward, regardless of what happens.

    You’re welcome regarding lunch. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Looking forward to the next one. Hope you enjoyed your winnings from the bet!

Comments are closed.