Wednesday, August 10, 2005

One of the Myths of the "Big Tent"

It's frequent in politics for certain "buzz words" to become clubs which one faction wields against another.

So it has become with the phrase "big tent." Oft-invoked by self-styled "moderate" Republicans --- it too frequently becomes an excuse to justify policies and actions more accurately attributed to Democrats. One good example is the constitutional monstrosity which is abortion. Don't get me wrong; I can respect if disagree with any Republican who believes that allowing abortion is sound public policy.

Just don't try to sell me on the fraud that it is properly a constitutional issue. That is an intellectual myth that cannot rationally be sustained, any more than Plessy's myth that "separate but equal" was constitutionally permissible under the Civil War amendments.

It's funny, though. Twice in the last two months, I have had occasion to speak to fraternal groups of African American public employees, groups not usually associated with conservatives or the GOP, who have sought my counsel because of the failure of traditionally left-wing groups, and their options. At least four times in the last few years, I have represented groups of such individuals to vindicate their legal rights against unions and public officials --- many, self-styled "moderate" Republicans --- in league with them.

And in what "radical right-wing" position did we find accord? That everyone should have the right, but no one should be required, to join or pay monies to labor union as a condition of obtaining or keeping a job.

I wonder how may self-styled "moderates" have made any effort whatsoever to take this or any other so-called "radical right-wing" libertarian/conservative position to groups not traditionally associated with conservatives?

There is much about RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman's "apology" to the NAACP that can be criticized. But he was dead on point in recognizing that the GOP institutionally --- and moderate, "country club" Republican faction in particular --- have done itself and black Americans a disserve by ignoring black voters and failing to recognize that their home is in the GOP.

That is, when the battlegrounds is where it properly belongs, in the field of ideas and shared values.

4 comments:

Mitch Cumstein said...

Jim -

When I use the concept of the "Big Tent" philosophy, I am speaking more to buying into the entire GOP platform than to demographics. The overriding concern that I have is that there are many voters/supporters of the Republican Party that don't necessarily agree with every single position that the Party espouses. Using the abortion issue as an example, there are plenty of pro-choice Republicans out there who hold to "conservative" positions on most if not every other major issue. The same could be said for issues such as gun control, affirmative action, the role of government (spending), etc.. The question is: Is it reasonable and/or sensible for a political party to demand that all members believe and support every individual position that the party as a whole has agreed?

Personally, I don't believe that it is. A party's platform is typically an amalgam of the positions agreed to by most, but not necessarily all, of its members. Substantial compromise often goes into the formation of such a platform. It's one thing to ask members to make such compromises in order to support candidates that share like views on the majority of issues. To ask all members to firmly agree to and never deviate from every specific issue just isn't realistic.

In the end, I think the question comes down to ideological purity vs. pragmatic success. If the party demands purity on all issues, and hold the impure in contempt, I believe the party will begin to lose support and, thus, elections. If, however, the party is willing to accept those of us who may stray from the party platform on an issue or two but are still ready and willing to support the party's nominees, we will continue to be successful.

Just my two cents. And, for the reoord, my grammar comment on TC was meant with tongue firmly in cheek, not as an attack.

James Young said...

Mitch --
There's not a great deal you've said with which I disagree. But I disagree insofar as you set forth a straw man to justify your own actions and/or those of your fellows towards those you condemn, i.e., that there are those among it who "demand that all members believe and support every individual position that the party as a whole has agreed." I am not such a person, nor do I know any such people. There's nothing like a good caricature, but the caricature painted by self-styled "moderates" is a little too akin to that painted by the media and the far Left (forgive me if I repeat myself), and it should be recognized as such.

And I would pose a different question: Is it reasonable and/or sensible for the members of a political party to make distinctions among those seeking its nomination between those who support its core and fundamental principles, and those whose records sustain the conclusion that they do not?

My problem is with those who respond to criticisms of Republicans for positions they take outside of the GOP mainstream by caricaturing the critics as demanding "ideological purity." Is that "reasonable and/or sensible," or even fair?

After all, I am a pro-life conservative, yet I supported Steve Baril for Attorney General; most other like-minded individuals supported McDonnell. I wasn't condemned or attacked for that support by those so regularly demonized by some on your website, who frequently demonize me. Indeed, in 2003 I supported Dave Mabie for the State Senate nomination; Bob FitzSimmonds and I were, remained, and are still good friends. Similarly, only George Fitch took the tax pledge, yet I don't know a single member of the Taxpayers Alliance or its Board who supported him over Jerry Kilgore.

It goes back to the question I asked on your website on the thread from Hell: "let us in on the positions that I (and/or the others; I note that you take after some friends of mine) have taken over the years with which you disagree. Not the candidates: the positions. Why don't you tell us all what positions that Young, Hendrix, FitzSimmonds, and Daugherty have taken -- one of us or all of us -- with which you have disagreed?"

You know what? I'm still waiting for a response.

Mitch Cumstein said...

Jim -

First, I guess I should clarify as to the source of my angst regarding this issue. While I have, at times, taken issue with the tone of some of your articles/comments, these represent only a small portion of that which has me concerned. There have been countless comments on blogs, such as Bacon's Rebellion, that have echoed great intolerance toward anyone calling themselves a Republican who disagrees with their interpretation of the Party platform. The rhetoric too often belies the fact that, in the end, we're all supporting the same (or almost the same) candidates. As to the other PWC players typcially mentioned, I've met them all (yourself included) and have no personal animus toward them. I particularly like Bob. Though we haven't always agreed on issues/candidates, he's a likeable guy and I respect the strength of his convictions.

As to your question: "Is it reasonable and/or sensible for the members of a political party to make distinctions among those seeking its nomination...," It's absolutely both reasonable and sensible to do this. I would prefer that we, as a party, look at the candidate in a more holistic manner and ask ourselves: "Will he/she represent the overall best interests of the Party and its members?" That, of course, begs the question: "To whom are comparing this candidate?" In a primary, I believe that, all things being reasonably equal, we should support the candidate most likely to win a general election. That's just me, though. I'd much rather elect a Republican I disagree with on an issue or two than a Democrat. Yet I respect that, for some, there are individual issues on which there can be no compromise. Take my wife, for instance. She's staunchly pro-life. Politcally, it is the most important issue there is to her. I believe that, if forced to choose between a pro-choice Republican and a pro-life Democrat (yes, they do exist), she'd vote for the latter. I, on the other hand, would vote for the Republican, because this particular issue does not rank high enough on my own list of issue priorities to warrant crossing over.

On the subject of issues/positions, I have a philosophical difference of opinion with those who take issue with the tax situation in PWC. Many complained during the primary that the tax rate should have been lowered to a point that ensured that revenue remained neutral or only slightly higher. These individuals also argued that reducing the tax rate by a smaller amount generated too much additional revenue and, thus, took too much away from taxpayers. I understand the logic, but I think it completely misses the point. We need, at all levels of government, to control (and cut) spending. This starts with determining what role our governments (federal, state, local)should play and what services they should be required to pay for. Once we've answered that question, we can then determine the cost and tax ourselves accordingly. The debate should be about what services government should provide and, thus, pay for and what it shouldn't. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. The debate has simply been about the bottom line. This not only ignores the spending issue on a county level, but also doesn't factor in the real problem of the failure of the state to provide us with our fair share of its own revenue. That, of course, was one of Sean's main issues and I agree with it. The bottom line should be: Eliminate services that government shouldn't flit the bill for, make the state provide us with our fair share, and only ask our taxpayers to make up the difference. We can certainly disagree on the spending priorities. Those should be fair game. But let's keep the focus there and not simply on the tax rate itself.

This is interesting stuff. Let's keep the discussion going.

James Young said...

You state that: "I would prefer that we, as a party, look at the candidate in a more holistic manner and ask ourselves: 'Will he/she represent the overall best interests of the Party and its members?' That, of course, begs the question: 'To whom are comparing this candidate?' In a primary, I believe that, all things being reasonably equal, we should support the candidate most likely to win a general election."

I guess my experience -- of which you are apparently keenly aware (when do I get to compare it to yours?) -- teaches that the comment about "holistic approach" is too often an excuse for a candidate who associates with the GOP not as a statement of a particular set of convictions, but as the path of least resistance to personal political power. My experience in PWC and Virginia politics also teaches that our/GOP candidates are most successful -- particularly in taking seats away from Democrats -- when they make sharp differences. Virginians who want a big-spending, tax-'em-'til-they-scream Liberal are smart enough to vote for a Democrat, who will at least do it with honesty and enthusiasm, rather than a "Repubmocrat" who will talk the talk, but won't walk the walk. Hence, Mark Warner beat Mark Earley. Do you think anyone was stupid enough to believe Warner's promise that he wouldn't raise taxes? Anybody who did was probably too stupid to vote. But enough voters were smart enough to recognize Earley's disingenuous rhetoric.

Sure; a Republican incumbent who fails as a fiscal conservative can probably still hold on to his or her seat, simply because of the power of the incumbency -- somebody today called it the most powerful force in American politics -- but the most powerful motivating force for grassroots political activists (at least, those who aren't powermongers) is the desire for change, and alienation of them follows from incumbents who fail to pursue an "activist" agenda. Politicians who fail to pursue that course want to relegate elections to a personal popularity contest. Don't know if its feet of clay, or laziness, or both, but it sure avoids the heavy intellectual lifting of making an argument and justifying your agenda (particularly since you therefore don't have one).

So sure, like you, "I'd much rather elect a Republican I disagree with on an issue or two than a Democrat," and frequently have (Tom Davis in '94 would be a good example; I think he'd acknowledge, even today, that few worked as hard for him as did the PWC YRs). After all, that's the pledge that members of official GOP committees take, and I live with it. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to render fair criticisms and facts relating to what I view as variance from core GOP policies, particularly in my role as a commentator.

As for your comment on the PWC tax issue, no one I know of "complained during the primary that the tax rate should have been lowered to a point that ensured that revenue remained neutral or only slightly higher." 'Fact is, revenue has increased MASSIVELY during Sean's tenure. And that gets back to my point: Sean has never attempted to justify ANY increases, and instead has become an instrument of a government bureaucracy with a interest in bigger government, and criticized/attacked those who advocate more modest increases as wanting "cuts." That's the rhetoric of the far Left. It's dishonest. Couple that with his claim of "tax cuts," and you should understand why many find him to be a four-flusher (wonderful word that I heard Jeff Greenfield use to describe Jimmy Carter during my freshman year at H-SC; seems to fit).

As for your discussion about the "state" not meeting its fair share, I suppose I don't believe Sean on this. Other than the "Office for Women," can you name one other "service" -- another dishonest word -- that Sean has cut during his tenure? Perhaps you had even forgotten the one I mentioned. And merely griping about how the Commonwealth isn't meaning its burden begs the question of whether government should be in those businesses at all.

For that matter, Sean could easily have pursued an agenda that would both eased the burden and satisfied conservatives, had he had the wit and/or convictions to do so. A huge program of tax credits for school choice would have achieved it. No such program of which I am aware proposes a credit of more than half the average local per-pupil expenditures, so absent tax cuts, it would result in higher revenue for the Commonwealth. It would also ease the "burden" on localities to provide for government schools, since those parents exercising the choice would leave the government schools with, say, a $3500 tax credit, and leave the remaining $4000 spent per pupil for the government to spend. A demand for reduction of our over-bureaucratized schools would have been a good idea, too.

Of course, Sean didn't propose such a thing. Instead, he sought and obtained the VEA endorsement, an organization with a keen financial interest in government schools and a large educrat bureaucracy, and something which I think we both would agree is a far Left agenda. And that is the kind of thing which rightly cause people to question his claim of being a "conservative." How any Republican can vote for something carrying that endorsement is beyond me.