Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How did we get here?

Republicans are funny animals.  We have all types in the GOP, from rich to poor, young to old, rural 'home-folk' to the country-club elite.  The party has morphed dramatically over the years with each election cycle, but one thing has been consistent since Ronald Reagan's ascendancy in the 80's, most conservative voters call themselves Republican.

In 1976, conservatives in American lined up behind a Democrat, Jimmy Carter.  Carter touted his born again credentials among the Christian faithful, and many, including my parents, thought he would be a champion of culturally conservative principles.  Economic issues were not a driving force in the '76 presidential race, and Carter beat out Gerald Ford, the sitting Republican vice-president, in 1976.  The fact that Ford was inextricably tied to Nixon, doomed his candidacy.  The GOP at that time was seen as a party for the wealthy.  Few of my family's friends in Mississippi, my home state, openly supported Gerald Ford.

But, in 1980, Ronald Reagan stepped onto the stage, and everything changed.  Carter had been a miserable failure.  His economic policy failures, bumbling of foreign policy, and failure to champion culturally conservative causes, made the conservatives in America re-evaluate their place in the Democratic party.   Southern conservatives defected from the Democratic party in large numbers.  This exodus began in earnest at the national level, but trickled down to state and local elections over the next decade.  The Democratic party had once been the dominant political force in the deep south, with Reagan, they would be supplanted by the Republican party.   By the end of the 80's, the south, and much of the mid-west was fully in the Republican column.

With Reagan in office, conservatism was being embraced by more people than ever.  The Republican party platform was re-written to include strong stances on cultural issues such as life, marriage and family.  The GOP was considered the party strongest on national defense, strongest on reducing crime, and the party least likely to champion the social welfare state.  The miserable failures of the social welfare state under Carter were evidenced in many parts of the deep south with increased poverty and ballooning crime rates.  The GOP was seen as the pragmatic law-and-order party who would end this culture of dependency that had held so many families in its grip.  

Reagan won re-election in a landslide in 1984.  His masterful work ending the Cold War and bringing back Morning in America endeared him to Republicans and Democrats alike.  He won over independent voters and, for the only time in my lifetime (that I can remember), conservatives were actually winning the argument with liberals.  

When Reagan left office in 1988, he was succeeded by George H.W. Bush, another Republican.  Bush, Sr. did not have the soaring rhetoric or passion of Reagan, but most conservatives lined up behind him... believing he would carry on in the Reagan tradition.   His famous line "Read my lips..." made the fiscal conservatives rally for him as well.

But over the last several election cycles, we've seen a shift in the GOP.  The more culturally conservative members of the GOP have been relegated to the back bench.  The large conservative  majorities built during the Reagan era have not resulted in conservative party leadership.  Most of the  leadership positions in the Republican party are held by those who are wary of the more conservative coalitions of the party.  There was a brief hope that George W. Bush, would bring back Reagan-style conservatism, but  George W. Bush's propensity for spending (i.e. Medicare Part D) and his push for an increased federal role in education with No Child Left Behind further eroded conservatives enthusiasm for the GOP.   

There have been a number of GOP candidates for President since Reagan who were not embraced by conservatives including Bob Dole and John McCain (and George H.W. Bush in his second run).  The GOP party machine was effective in garnering the support needed for these candidates to win nomination , but not  in helping them win in the general election.  The enthusiasm gap for these candidates was apparent in decreased voter turnout and lack of active support by the more conservative base of the GOP.

And now we come to the election of 2012, one of the most volatile nomination races I've ever witnessed.   The less conservative GOP party leadership jumped on the Mitt Romney bandwagon early on.  The conservative base split their loyalties between Michelle Bachman, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich.  The large number of conservative candidates vying for the GOP nomination left the conservative base fractured through the first few contests, but one-by-one, the conservative candidates began to drop out.  We are now down to two conservative candidates: Gingrich and Santorum.  But, the base has been unwilling to coalesce around just one. So, it appears the party may be about to crown the least conservative in the field as their nominee, to the delight of the GOP party leadership.  The base is restless.  Trouble is brewing.

The money and efforts expended by GOP party leadership to force a less-than-conservative candidate on the conservative base is unprecedented.  Yet, despite their best efforts, the GOP leadership has failed to quell the deep skepticism held for Romney by many in the GOP.  Conservatives are not sold on Romney's severely-conservative credentials, and are less than enthusiastic about a potential Obama-Romney match-up in the fall.  What the GOP leadership hadn't considered, is the conservative GOP base may decide to choose none-of-the-above in the fall campaign.  Without conservative support, Romney would be headed for certain defeat.  Even with a Romney victory over Obama, the base of the GOP would be further alienated.. and conservatives are a very important block for upcoming election battles.  The lack of conservative fervor would also have  detrimental effect on GOP chances in House and Senate battles.  With the just-announced resignation of Republican Senator Olympia Snow (of Maine), the potential for GOP to retake the Senate, less likely.

So what are conservatives to do?  I don't have the answer to that question, but I am not feeling particularly welcome in my party anymore.  I am not sure where I would turn, seeing that there is no viable alternative at this point.  Conservatives defected from the Democratic party with Reagan, will conservatives now defect  from the GOP?  With the rise of the Tea-Party, perhaps a new party could emerge that could provide disaffected conservatives a new home.  Time will tell.  I am open to most any option, but I have no interest in remaining in a party whose only leaders have rejected Reagan conservatism.  Conservatives who wish to have a voice in the GOP really only have one option, defeat the establishment candidate and place conservatives in positions of leadership within the GOP.  Without that, the future for conservatives in the GOP is not a bright one.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Who Gives Us Hope?

American history is filled with champions of hope and inspiration.  Martin Luther King, Jr said, "I have a dream".  Reagan brought us 'Morning in America', and George H.W. Bush called on us to be '1000 Points of Light'  So where do we find hope among the 2012 GOP contenders?  I make the case today that Newt Gingrich is our modern day champion of hope.

Newt Gingrich has had a very long career in politics.  Newt got his start in 1978 when he won a seat in the U.S. House in Georgia's Sixth Congressional district.    He went on to usher in one of the biggest-power grabs in modern politics, by orchestrating the GOP Revolution of 1994.   The Republicans were able to gain 54 seats and took over the majority in the U.S. House for the first time since 1954.   The political establishment at the time was rocked as Newt Gingrich and his band of conservative warriors came into Washington, D.C. and, in record time, brought every plank in their Contract With America up for a vote on the House floor, passing 9 out of 10 of the provisions in the contract   They  were even able to convince Bill Clinton, a Democrat, to sign Welfare Reform into law and then balance the Federal Budget  in 1999, the first time that had been done since 1969.

Newt's style of governing could be considered a whirlwind.  He enjoyed staying ahead of those who would try to control the narrative or the system.  This got him into a number of skirmishes with the some of the old guard GOP leadership who were used to calling the shots inside the GOP.  Newt was never the type to back down from a fight, and regularly took on the news media, liberal politicians and, occasionally, some of those in his own party.

So why is Newt Gingrich an agent of hope in this years race for the GOP nomination?  There are several characteristics that only Newt possesses that set him apart from the other contenders.  Let's take a look at of some of these qualities to get a better understanding of this man.

Newt Gingrich is a historian.  Newt has authored 27 books, several documentaries and describes him self as an avid reader; he's reviewed 100's of books and articles.  He's given countless speeches about American History, the one given at the Horowitz Restoration Weekend being one being one of his finest.

Newt Gingrich is an historic figure.   Newt has likened himself to Winston Churchill.  His critics mock the assertion, but many of his colleagues, and even a number of his enemies have made that comparison.  His orchestration of the 1994 GOP Revolution certainly gives him a place in history, but I assert, he's done even more than that.  He's given voice to many bold ideas throughout his career that were initially ridiculed, but then adopted by his challengers.

Newt Gingrich inspires.  Newt has a knack for knowing exactly the words to use to energize voters.  His GOPAC memo to Republican candidates in the 90's was an instruction manual on how to win the argument. His cassette tapes were sent out regularly to GOP party contenders.  Most considered these tapes an integral part of the sweeping GOP victories of 1994.

Newt Gingrich is a teacher.  In the 70's Newt taught History and Geography at West Georgia College.  Newt is often criticized because of his long speeches and complex policies, but Newt has never shied away from complex political issues.  He enjoys educating voters, and considers this a fundamental component of any GOP victory.  He believes that voters who do not choose Republican party positions are simply uninformed, and, for the most part, I agree with that.  He took time out of his busy campaign schedule a few weeks ago to educate cadettes at the Citadel on the history of conservatism.

Newt Gingrich proposes bold solutions.  Saturday Night Live enjoys poking fun at Newt for some of his unorthodox ideas.  He has proposed developing a moon colony and using lasers to take out North Korea's nuclear capabilities.  But Newt's Contract With America was also mocked as unreasonable; his critics stopped laughing when it actually became a reality.  Newt is now proposing $2.50/gallon gasoline and paying down our debt with royalties from oil and mineral rights on federal lands.  Some are calling that another crazy idea, I just happen to believe it is a real solution to our energy crisis.

Now there will be those who point to Newt's personal baggage as a disqualifier in this GOP nomination fight, but I would suggest that no bold leader in history came to us without stain.  We all know about Kennedy's affairs, Churchill's drinking tendencies, and even Reagan was a divorcee who was once a Democrat!  I suggest that Newt is precisely the messy sort of politician that is best suited to take on the issues of our day.   He lays his soul bare, flaws and all, and I love him for that.

I hope this walk through history has given at least a few wavering voters food for thought.  The time in the nomination process is short, but I would say the time left to restore America is the most important factor to consider this election cycle.   We really can't afford to get this one wrong.  We've been headed in the wrong direction for way too long.  Let's get a real wise warrior to Washington, D.C. and begin the work of restoring America.  Newt's vision to restore America to our founding principles provides the hope we are seeking.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Unholy alliance?

So now the rumors are flying that Ron Paul has become a surrogate of Mitt Romney; another development in this 2012 GOP nomination process that no one saw coming.  I am still not sure what to make of this rumor, but it is, at the very least, a quite interesting and peculiar story.

Ron Paul has always been a rather odd character in the Republican party.  His Libertarian style of Republicanism has grown in popularity in recent years, particularly with Barack Obama's out-of-control regulation and spending.   But his stance on Israel, Iran and out-of-the-mainstream views including legalizing drugs and gutting defense spending make many GOP party faithful wonder why he is even in the Republican party.  This is what makes an alliance with Mitt Romney most unorthodox. 

Ron Paul has represented Texas' 14th Congressional district in the U.S. House since 1997.  He's described as a loner by many representatives in the House, but is personally liked those that know him.    Paul has been running for President of the United States since 1988, when he ran as a Libertarian.  He is not known for building coalitions and tends to vote in opposition to his party more often than not.  He's developed a very loyal following of supporters who enthusiastically campaign for him, in a style which some describe as manic.   

This rumor began in earnest around the time of the Florida primary, when open-speculation began about Paul's silence on Romney-care and Romney's fiscal record as Governor of Massachusetts.  Most assumed that Romney would be precisely the type of candidate that Paul would rail against, seeing that Romney's positions and behaviors while in office, were exactly the type of big-government overreach that Paul has been tirelessly critiquing for years.  But, there was no attack, no critique .. just silence.  Folks were waiting.

So the silence on Romney has continued, but the attacks from Ron Paul against the other candidates, relentless.  Paul has gone after Gingrich as a Washington Insider and Santorum for pork-barrel spending.  Paul's rather tactless comment 'He's Fake' when asked about Santorum in the Arizona debate was considered quite harsh.  He's had similar biting rhetoric in the past for Gingrich.

According to the New York Times, this friendship has been cultivated by Mitt Romney.  The wives of the candidates are friends, and apparently Paul and Romney have a budding friendship as well.  Perhaps this explains Paul's silence, but many are skeptical that a friendship would derail Paul's assault on big-government.  I am one of those.

Opponents of Paul have suggested that Paul has accepted some sort of payment from Romney for his silence.  Or, that he has received promises of a cabinet appointment, a speaking role at the Tampa GOP Convention in August, or promises that Rand Paul, his son (and popular Tea-Party Senator) would be chosen as his Vice-President.   None of these confirmed, but the speculation continues.

There have been 20 debates, and we've yet to hear Ron Paul openly chastising Mitt Romney for Romney-care, which was the model used by the Obama Administration to develop the Affordable Healthcare Act, better known as Obama-care.  Similarly, no critique of Romney's over-assessment of regulations and fees while in office.  These are bread-and-butter issues for any good Paul supporter, I'd be curious to know if Paul supporters are comfortable with Paul's silence on these.

I don't know what Paul is up to, but I do know that this silence can not just be a coincidence.  Paul has no path to the nomination without taking some of the more moderate supporters of Romney.  The vast majority of Santorum and Gingrich supporters have no interest in a candidate who has openly rejected the idea of stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and who has determined we should not be defending Israel against hostile-radical neighbors. 

Paul has come out in recent days and said "There is no alliance with Romney", but still deafening silence on Romney-care and Romney's less-than-conservative credentials.  Until Paul speaks out against Romney's record on core principles that Paul has spent his entire career championing, this talk of an unholy alliance with Romney will never die.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wherever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government - T. Jefferson

People have been complaining about bias in the media  as long as we have had media.  The trouble with reporting the news, is that in order to do it effectively, reporters have to think, speak and write.  It is that thinking part that always trips them up.  To examine this further, let's take a closer look at Fox News, the highest rated cable news network according to the Nielson Company

Fox New was founded by Rupert Murdoch in 1996.  Conservative news consumers had been complaining about the liberal bias in news reporting for years, and Fox News was seen as a refreshing alternative.  Fox News claimed the mantra fair and balanced, but  Fox News viewers were not tuning in because the coverage was fair or balanced, they wanted their news to reflect their own world view.

The large viewership of Fox News took some of the other news outlets by surprise.  These other more left-leaning news outlets, of course, did not recognize the bias in their own news coverage, but Fox News did an effective job of pointing out just how left-leaning the coverage had been (and continues to be), and the numbers of devoted Fox News fans grew to more than double that of any other news network.

But now Fox News finds themselves at an interesting cross-roads.  It seems that another form of media bias has crept in.  Fox News may have taken sides in the battle between the grass-roots conservatives and the Washington, DC ruling elite.  The coverage of the candidates in the GOP nomination race does not appear to be fair and balanced, but it appears they are actually promoting a specific GOP candidate, namely Mitt Romney.  Is this intentional? .. or merely an oversight on their part?

There is a narrative, that is being delivered through Fox News (and other news outlets), that Mitt Romney is the most electable among the GOP candidates for president.  But when you examine the data, that narrative doesn't seem to measure up to reality.  It is also clear that conservative news consumers are falling into two distinct camps: those who believe the Republican party leadership knows best who should be the leader of the GOP, and those who believe the grassroots conservatives (including Tea-Party activists) know best.  

So who is right?  Let's look at some alarming data:
  • Voter turnout in both Iowa and New Hampshire sharply down from 2008
  • In South Carolina overall turnout  was up, but down in precincts carried by Romney
  • In Florida voter turnout was down 14% from the 2008 GOP primary
  • In Florida turnout was lowest in precincts that Mitt Romney carried, lower than 2008
  • In Florida turnout was highest in precincts that Newt Gingrich carried, higher than 2008
  • Voter turnout in Nevada was way down from 2008 GOP Caucuses
  • Only 8% of registered voters participated in Missouri GOP Primary, down 57%
  • In Colorado turnout was down 7%.  Romney campaigned heavily & lost to Santorum
  • Turnout in Minnesota was down 24% from 2008 levels.
Interestingly, voter turnout has been up in nearly every precinct carried by Newt Gingrich in all primaries/caucuses.  The only state showing an overall increase in voter turnout (up 35%) was South Carolina, where Gingrich carried all but two precincts.  Turnout was lowest in Maine (only 1% participated in the GOP Caucuses) and Missouri carried by Romney and Santorum respectively.  

Decreased voter turnout is not the only signal that Romney may not be the most electable of the GOP contenders.  The number of voters choosing a candidate other than Romney has been greater than the number choosing to support him in all states except Nevada where he received 50% of the vote.  The cry from an increasing number of conservative voters is Anybody but Romney.   

So where does Fox News play in all of this?  Fox News has, unfortunately, been in the DC establishment bubble for some time.  They are hearing from the likes of Karl Rove, Britt Hume, and other inside the beltway political junkies and pundits.  Comments such as presumptive nominee Mitt Romney occur regularly, and news anchors, pundits and guests are often offering advice to Romney about how to seal the nomination, while simultaneously ignoring or discounting the other GOP contenders.  

What we are not hearing from Fox News, are the voices of  the folks in fly-over country, who are enormously suspicious of Mitt Romney.  Romney is now behind in Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma, and if he doesn't manage to seal the deal in his home state of Michigan, the hand-wringing will commence about Romney's chances in November.   The fact we are not hearing about this on Fox News, lends to the theory that Fox News is an arm of the GOP party leadership.  As much as conservatives may be grateful to Fox News for giving voice to Republican ideas, this was not what conservatives in fly-over country signed up for.  If Fox News intends to maintain its dominance, they need to pay attention to the vast majority of their viewers, who do not reside in Washington, D.C., New York or Los Angeles.  

As long as human beings are reporting news there will be bias.  The only way to make it fair, is to have different news organizations representing all viewpoints so that viewers can choose.  We now have a vast selection of news resources online to choose from.  For Fox News' sake, they would be wise to listen to the voices of conservatives outside the beltway or those ratings will start to drop as the conservative majority seeks out other sources for their news.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

It ain't over til ....

 I find it rather amusing as I listen to the talking-heads in the mainstream media with their non-stop punditry insinuating that Mitt Romney is the presumptive GOP nominee.  As if the nomination process was over... ignoring those pesky details including counting votes, delegates (and other such nonsense).  Perhaps it would be wise of us to look a little closer at our presumptive nominee, ask ourselves, how did this man get into this position, and is this race really over?

 Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has that look of being a president: chiseled features, tall, slim, confident.  A long history of campaigning; he has honed his craft of convincing voters that he is a political giant.   The packaging is superior, but what is on the inside?  What do we know about this man?  Did he behave in a manner consistent with conservative principles?

Is Mitt Romney the leader of the conservative cause?  
.. or merely a charlatan seeking power and attention?

Being elected Governor of Massachusetts as a Republican is no small feat.  Massachusetts has graced us with politicians such as Ted Kennedy and Michael Dukakis.   I've always instinctively believed it would be nearly impossible for a conservative Republican to ever win and lead in that state.  After examining the record, it seems my instincts may have been correct.

  • Romney changed his affiliation from Independent to Republican in October 1993 
  • In his 1994 senate campaign, Romney said: Look, I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I'm not trying to take us back to Reagan-Bush 
  • Romney ran for governor as a political outsider in 2002 saying he was "not a partisan Republican" but rather a "moderate" with "progressive" views. 
  • Romney held an "unequivocal" pro-choice abortion position during his 2002 campaign 
  • As governor of Massachusetts, Romney supported raising various fees by more than $300 million, including those for driver's licenses, marriage licenses, and gun licenses 
  • Romney authored 'Romneycare' - Massachusetts' universal health insurance coverage 
  • In May 2004, Romney instructed town clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples

Romney is also on record stating he is pro-gun, anti-gun, pro-life, pro-Cap & Trade, anti-Cap & Trade, and he supported the bank bailouts of 2008.

Having this record, it does seem peculiar that the Republican party would be so eager to embrace his candidacy for President of the United States.  How did this happen?  It happened because moderate party leadership has essentially ignored the will of the conservative majority and would like to have a candidate who they feel can be molded and directed by the ruling elite.  Romney is not the type of man who will stand up to fight against party leadership, because his very presence in the race is because party leadership is pulling the strings.

I think it is time for the conservative majority in the GOP to wake up to the shenanigans going on with our party leadership.  It is utter nonsense that the vast majority in this party are being ignored and are being compelled to follow a prescribed path dictated by a view that only moderates are fit to govern.  If we learned anything from Reagan, we certainly learned that is not true.

This nomination has not been decided.  It isn't over until the voters decide it is over.  Now is the time for conservatives to take back control of the Republican party and the process.  We can not afford to put a puppet up against Obama in November, it will be the end of the GOP as we know it.