Tag Archives: GOP

The Problem With Moderation

A long time ago–twenty or so years, as my worsening memory calculates it–I tried to organize a local political group around the principles of civil discourse and moderation. I was concerned at the time about the nasty confrontations and unwillingness to negotiate that were increasingly characterizing political debate, and in my naiveté, I thought a group of nice, earnest folks might be able to nudge local combatants back toward an ill-defined “center.”

We called it the “American Values Alliance,” and you can guess how well that went. As one member concluded, there’s a reason you never see gangs of marching moderates.

In the years since that abortive effort, as the practice of “on the ground” politics has dramatically changed, I’ve come to recognize the massive impediments to–and lack of wisdom of– similar attempts.

In the past, “moderate” essentially meant “in the middle.” A moderate was someone who understood that half a loaf was better than no bread at all, and was willing to sit down with proponents of contrary policies to see if some middle ground existed. That approach works when the opposing positions are center-left and center-right–or at least when proponents of different policies come from rational, albeit different, perspectives.

When one side of a conflict wants to deprive the other side of fundamental rights, there is no “middle.”

What does half a loaf look like when the argument is about the right of trans children to access lifesaving medical care? What is the “middle ground” in a debate over who gets to decide whether a woman reproduces?

How do we “negotiate” with lawmakers who call LGBTQ citizens “abominations” and insist that nonChristians aren’t “real Americans”?

What is the “middle ground” between banning books and respecting the expertise of schoolteachers and librarians–not to mention the rights of parents who disagree?

When a political party threatens to upend the global financial order by refusing to authorize the payment of bills already incurred–amounts the government owes (thanks in many cases to votes cast by those now threatening to default)–giving in to some of that party’s demands is negotiating with terrorists and encouraging future blackmail.

I’m sure you can all come up with similar examples.

I tend to think of moderation today as the definition being employed by ReCenter, the organization I wrote about a couple of weeks ago–not as a center point between policy positions, but as a characteristic of reasonable people. A moderate person, defined in that way, is a rational citizen, someone open to discourse and amenable to evidence–not a rabid ideologue or bigot.

My sister recently hit the nail on the head when she opined that the arguments currently taking place between the parties aren’t about policy–they’re about morality.

My sister and I both used to be among those thousands of Republican women who volunteered in our respective precincts to get out the vote, and considered ourselves to be…yes…moderates. We currently number among the thousands who have fled the racist, homophobic, misogynistic cult that is today’s GOP.

I don’t know how one becomes a “moderate” racist or anti-Semite. I don’t know how the  base of the GOP squares its current positions with the moral aspirations of the U.S. Constitution or the historic American emphasis on civic equality and democratic decision-making.

What prompted this particular diatribe was an important recent statement by Third Way’s executive vice president. Progressives routinely accuse Third Way of being unrealistically moderate, but the statement–quite correctly, in my opinion– lambasted another presumably “moderate” group, No Labels:

The group No Labels is holding its nominating convention in Dallas to select a 3rd Party candidate that most assuredly would hurt Biden and elect Trump or whoever wins the GOP nomination. They have already raised $70m. They are already on the ballot in a bunch of states. And in a map they recently published showing their absurd path to 270 electoral college votes, they’ve targeted 23 states for victory—19 won by Biden and 4 won by Trump. That gives you an idea of what they’re up to and who they really want to elect. And as a reminder, No Labels endorsed Trump in 2016.

(Subsequently, evidence emerged that Republican “dark money” is funding No Labels.)

In a sane world, moderation and willingness to compromise are virtues.  We don’t currently occupy a sane world. As a letter to the Washington Post accurately put it:

One side believes in American democracy, while the other has attacked it. One is governing from the mainstream, while the other champions extremism. One seeks to work collaboratively on the issues; the other has given way to conspiracy theorists and cranks.

A vote for No Labels –or for any third-party candidate–isn’t evidence of moderation. It’s a Faustian bargain.

Cautionary Tales

A reader recently shared an article from Politico, titled, “Gun Violence is Actually Worse in Red States. It’s Not Even Close.” It began by quoting the rhetoric of various ambitious Republicans on the subject: 

In October, Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis proclaimed crime in New York City was “out of control” and blamed it on George Soros. Another Sunshine State politico, former president Donald Trump, offered his native city up as a Democrat-run dystopia, one of those places “where the middle class used to flock to live the American dream are now war zones, literal war zones.” In May 2022, hours after 19 children were murdered at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott swatted back suggestions that the state could save lives by implementing tougher gun laws by proclaiming“Chicago and L.A. and New York disprove that thesis.”

As the article points out, this is pure propaganda.

In reality, the region the Big Apple comprises most of is far and away the safest part of the U.S. mainland when it comes to gun violence, while the regions Florida and Texas belong to have per capita firearm death rates (homicides and suicides) three to four times higher than New York’s. On a regional basis it’s the southern swath of the country — in cities and rural areas alike — where the rate of deadly gun violence is most acute, regions where Republicans have dominated state governments for decades.

There are a number of reasons beyond policy for these disparities, including the differing cultures of those who originally colonized various areas of the country. But the current assaults on even minimal efforts to reduce gun violence employ outright lies to play on deep-seated, mostly rural fears of urban life.

There are mounting, disquieting “cautionary tales” about America’s deepening divisions into rural and urban, Red and Blue. A week or so ago, the Washington Post ran a truly terrifying story about the radical Right takeover of a small Michigan county. It deserves to be read in its entirety, but the introductory paragraphs are instructive. 

The eight new members of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners had run for office promising to “thwart tyranny” in their lakeside Michigan community of 300,000 people.

In this case the oppressive force they aimed to thwart was the county government they now ran…. 
The new commissioners, all Republicans, swore their oaths of office on family Bibles. And then the firings began. Gone was the lawyer who had represented Ottawa County for 40 years. Gone was the county administrator who oversaw a staff of 1,800. To run the health department, they voted to install a service manager from a local HVAC company who had gained prominence as a critic of mask mandates.

As the session entered its fourth hour, Sylvia Rhodea, the board’s new vice chair, put forward a motion to change the motto that sat atop the county’s website and graced its official stationery. “Whereas the vision statement of ‘Where You Belong’ has been used to promote the divisive Marxist ideology of the race, equity movement”… 

Rhodea proposed to unite the county around America’s “true history” as a “land of systemic opportunity built on the Constitution, Christianity and capitalism.’”

County Commission meetings everywhere tend to be lightly attended, but the article reports that ensuing meetings of this particular board were “packed with so many angry people calling each other “fascists,” “communists,” “Christian nationalists” and “racists” that the county would have to open an overflow room down the hall.”

The Guardian reports a similar takeover in Blue California.

In a seemingly long gone era – before the Trump presidency, and Covid, and the 2020 election – Doni Chamberlain would get the occasional call from a displeased reader who had taken issue with one of her columns. They would sometimes call her stupid and use profanities.

Today, when people don’t like her pieces, Chamberlain said, they tell her she’s a communist who doesn’t deserve to live. One local conservative radio host said she should be hanged.

The escalation of America’s culture wars isn’t only visible in small, rural counties. Consider a recent report out of Alabama.

The state of Alabama’s top early education official was forced out Friday by Gov. Kay Ivey over a teacher resource guide—one that promotes inclusion of various kinds of families and acknowledges the reality of racism in the nation’s history—the Republican leader denounced as too “woke.”

After an apparent refusal to denounce the book or accept its removal, Barbara Cooper, head of the Alabama Department of Early Education, was compelled to tender her resignation, which Ivey accepted.

And speaking of gun culture, the Guardian also reported on an event held by Idaho Republicans that “honored” Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen who shot and killed two people at an anti-racism protest.

There really are two (very different) Americas.



Falling Off The Cliff..

America’s MAGA Governors are increasingly divorced from reality.

I was struck by the title of a recent op-ed by Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post: “Ron DeSantis’ political War on Disney Makes Trump Look Reasonable.”

You really have to fall far, far off the sanity cliff to make Donald Trump look reasonable, but Robinson makes a compelling case.

I mean, seriously, what kind of governor threatens the revenue of a company that is his state’s biggest private employer, No. 1 corporate taxpayer and most popular tourist attraction? For that matter, what kind of self-proclaimed conservative Republican believes a governor has the right to punish a corporation for publicly disagreeing with his policies?

The battle DeSantis has chosen to wage against Walt Disney World always seemed petty and ill-advised. It now looks obsessive and weird — and I fear it tells us something alarming about the man who is running second in the polls, behind Donald Trump, for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

DeSantis’ obsessive need to punish a private company that dared criticize him has evidently been supercharged by the fact that Disney outfoxed him.

DeSantis wanted to take away Disney’s near-total control over the county Disney World inhabits. An agreement from the 1960s gave the company its own taxing district –along with responsibility for policing, firefighting, road maintenance and other government-like duties.

DeSantis had a tough, “anti-woke” oversight board all set to take charge of the special district and show Disney who’s boss — only to learn, late last month, that the Disney-friendly outgoing board had signed an agreement stripping the new board of its power and allowing Disney to continue operating with near-total autonomy for the foreseeable future.

Rather than walking away from further confrontation, DeSantis is asking Florida’s legislature to reverse Disney’s maneuver while ranting about punishing the company — the state’s biggest employer — by developing the land around Disney World in ways that would repel paying customers. “Maybe try to do more amusement parks,” he said at a news conference. “Someone even said, like, maybe you need another state prison.”

As if attacking the premier tourist attraction in his state for daring to disagree with him wasn’t insane enough, DeSantis and his compliant legislature are also continuing their destructive vendetta against the state’s universities.

But they’ll have trouble out-crazying Texas.

Talking Points Memo recently reported on a vote by the Texas Senate to end tenure at the state’s three dozen or so public universities.

Many observers in Texas think it’s unlikely that the tenure ban will pass the GOP-controlled Texas House. I hope that’s right. But even if it dies there, we have to reckon with how far Texas senators were willing to go.

As the article noted,

SB 18 would eliminate tenure only for newly hired professors and would allow a university system governing board to set up its own system of “tiered employment” for faculty, as long as professors receive an annual review. 

But let’s not kid ourselves. Eliminating tenure for new hires would put Texas universities at an extreme disadvantage when recruiting faculty. It would cripple many graduate programs. It would inject politics deeply into university management and administration. It would allow state government to play the same kinds of games with higher ed that they love foisting on elementary and secondary educators.

In Florida, DeSantis has pursued an unremitting assault on state educational institutions–from censoring the books that can be used in its public schools, to “don’t say gay” bills, to a variety of attacks on anything the Governor–in his warped worldview–considers “wokeness” on college campuses.

Recent research suggests these attacks on their universities will dramatically reduce the number of high school graduates willing to consider pursing higher education in either state. Axios has reported on a recent study showing college choices increasingly affected by state politics.

Although both liberal and conservative high school graduates affirmed the importance of the state’s political climate to their choice of colleges, young liberals outnumber conservatives by some 2-1, making this a much bigger problem for Red states. One finding should concern Indiana as well as Florida and Texas.

Among all college students, the support for states that have greater access to abortion is by an overwhelming 4-to-1 margin, including two-thirds of Republicans who said they prefer states with less restrictive abortion laws. It’s also a pronounced winner among women (86%) and men (74%) alike.

Prospective students aren’t the only ones avoiding states with abortion bans. The Washington Post has reported a steep drop in applicants for obstetrics and gynecology residencies in those states–drops that will deprive residents of critically-needed medical care. 

DeSantis and Abbott are depressingly representative of today’s Republican lawmakers– a collection of loony-tunes aspiring autocrats pursuing suicidal policies repellent to anyone outside crazy MAGA world.

As my grandmother would have said, “A wellness it isn’t.”


That Elusive Center

I’m torn.

I recently agreed to serve on the advisory committee of ReCenter Indiana alongside several people I like and admire. It is a bipartisan organization with laudatory goals.

Convinced that  “divisive Indiana politicians don’t represent Hoosier values,” the organization wants to elevate candidates who “represent the center, where most Hoosiers are.”

As ReCenter’s website argues, “the loudest and most extreme voices have drowned out sensible solutions,” a situation that has taken faith in government to an all-time low, making it critical that we restore “trust, respect, and accountability to our political system.”

Importantly, the organization defines “centrism” as behavior, not ideology– a willingness to engage in respectful dialogue with those holding different views, a willingness to negotiate in good faith and to compromise to achieve solutions that serve a majority of their constituents. It defines moderation as an attribute of character, not ideology.

The website identifies ReCenter’s values as

●      People over parties;
●      Results over rhetoric;
●      Patriotism over politics.

ReCenter’s political action committee intends to endorse candidates of both parties who display centrism/moderation defined in this way.

It is hard to argue with any of this, which is why I agreed to join the advisory committee. But I am increasingly concerned that the unprecedented nature of today’s American polarization will defeat these very reasonable–even noble– goals.

When I first became political “back in the day,” both of America’s major political parties were what I would describe as ideologically expansive. There were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and although the GOP was essentially center-Right and the Democrats were essentially center-Left, there were few if any philosophical “litmus tests” determining partisan affiliation.

That has changed–and the change threatens to foreclose our ability to negotiate our differences in good faith.

There are two contemporary realities that I see as barriers to the laudable goals of ReCenter Indiana and a number of other well-meaning political organizations.

The first is the effective sorting of voters between a political party and a cult. A recent example was highlighted by Pew research. Pew found that Americans support the continued availability of medication abortion by a margin of nearly 2 to1. The report of that survey result, however, also noted a “stark divide in partisanship in Americans’ views of the issue.” Virtually every respondent who opposed abortion was a Republican.

It isn’t only abortion. Public opinion on a wide range of issues has found a significant majority of Americans holding a range of relatively progressive opinions–while those holding minority far Right and/or extremist positions are clustered in the GOP. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that–no matter how one defines “moderation” and “centrism,” it is rarely to be found in today’s GOP.

That doesn’t mean there are no moderate or reasonable people left in the party, and ReCenter’s mission to identify candidates rejecting extremism so that those moderate and reasonable people can vote for them–especially in primaries–would make perfect sense, if it wasn’t for a pesky second reality. 

The cult that is the contemporary Republican Party is autocratic. It does impose litmus tests–and those tests require adherence to extremist and anti-democratic positions. The rare Republicans who put people over party and patriotism over politics are promptly ejected from positions of influence–Congresspersons Cheney and Kinzinger are gone, while Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar and their ilk have increasing prominence in the House of Representatives and the GOP.

Here in Indiana, the legislature’s radical super-majority is firmly in the thrall of the rural White Christians who–thanks to gerrymandering– still elect them.

So–here is my dilemma: how do those of us who agree with ReCenter’s definition of moderation and centrism– those of us who applaud efforts to return our state and country to a saner, more civil politics–accomplish that?  We live in a time when an organization formed to identify civil, reasonable candidates is likely to omit most Republicans–and a time when any that we do find are highly unlikely to influence the current trajectory of the GOP.

I am increasingly convinced that the only way America will emerge from its current divisions is a massive electoral defeat of the GOP, leading to its subsequent reformation or replacement. That conviction is at odds with the very laudable mission of  ReCenter.

Several of the people who comment on this blog are obviously highly intelligent, articulate and creative, so I’d appreciate the posting of practical solutions to ReCenter’s challenges.  

I shared the draft of this post with ReCenter‘s officers, and invited their response. It will post tomorrow.

What Was Down Is Up (And Vice-Versa)

Too often, reading the news makes me ill.

One recent example: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he’ll pardon a White man who a jury had found guilty of murdering a Black Lives Matter protester–an announcement he made one day after the verdict and before sentencing.

No dog whistle there…

In 2016, I reluctantly concluded that the actions (and votes) of a significant minority of Americans could only be explained by racism. I’ve had no reason to modify that conclusion since.

We live in a time of unprecedented political polarization; it has brought reasonable policymaking to a halt  and transformed the Republican Party into a cult harboring White Christian Nationalists, QAnon adherents and a variety of disordered individuals nursing assorted grievances.

As a result, Republican party leaders have a problem.  To keep the malcontents who dominate their base happy, it becomes necessary to feed the beast they’ve created by framing everything as “us versus them.”  And in order to do that, the GOP has had to abandon virtually everything the GOP once stood for and reverse previous policy positions, no matter how awkward the result..

Remember when Republicans criticized the FDA for being too slow and risk-averse when it came to authorizing new vaccines?

So it’s sad or funny — or both — that Operation Warp Speed has already emerged as a vulnerability for Trump in the 2024 presidential campaign, with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida moving to distinguish himself from Trump as a vaccine skeptic. And Trump, rather than touting his achievement, has been reduced to accusing DeSantis of only pretending to be anti-vaccine, noting (accurately) that DeSantis was enthusiastic about vaccinations when the program was first underway.

Watching Republicans compete to distance themselves from a major GOP policy success would be amusing if it weren’t so depressing.

Want depressing?

  •  The party of free trade enthusiastically endorsed Trump’s damaging tariffs on China.
  • The party that opposed government intrusion into corporate boardrooms has reacted ferociously–and legislatively–to corporations considering diversity and inclusion.
  • The party of  limited government and”individual liberty” has become highly selective about the individual liberties citizens are entitled to. Want to infect your neighbors and go mask-less? Fine. Want to control your own reproduction? Not so fast.
  • For the past several years, the party of fiscal responsibility has used the once-uncontroversial raising of the debt ceiling to blackmail Democratic administrations–threatening a default that would plunge the world into financial chaos by refusing to  pay existing financial obligations  for which many Republicans had voted.
  • The party that once opposed totalitarianism and autocracy and supported a strong and unified foreign policy now cozies up to Vladimir Putin and invites Victor Orban to speak at its events.
  • The party that trumpeted “law and order” now defends the “patriots” that  participated in the January 6th insurrection–and continues to support the ex-President who fomented that violence.

This list could go on and on. It’s instructive to read the party’s 1956 platform, to see just how dramatically today’s GOP differs from its former iteration. (For one thing, the party used to produce a platform…)

We are unlikely to be facing a “hot” civil war, although we are seeing increased domestic terrorism from the far Right, but the transformation of one of America’s two major parties into a White Christian Nationalist cult is enormously consequential. That transformation deprives reasonable Americans who differ on policy a mechanism for working out those differences, leaving genuine conservatives nowhere to go.

Indeed, few of the current GOP “stars” seem capable of discussing policies at all–what thoughtful analyses have we heard from the likes of Jim Jordan or Marjorie Taylor Greene?

Worse, the willingness of party members to publicly embrace racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic tropes encourages those who harbor those hatreds to express and act on them.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this situation is the fact that today’s GOP is a distinctly minority party. Today’s Republicans depend for their power on elements of American governance that have become obsolete and undemocratic.  Gerrymandering, the Electoral College and the Filibuster distort and obstruct government at both the state and federal levels; the composition of the Supreme Court facilitated its capture by political ideologues.

For the record, I believe that majority opinion will ultimately prevail. Demographics and culture change are inexorable. (For that matter, it’s recognition of those changes–and the fears they engender– that has triggered the GOP’s war on people of color, women, trans children–those who are in any way “other.”)

The question is: how much damage will we sustain in the interim?