Ted Frier

Ted Frier
April 02
Ted Frier is an author and former political reporter turned speechwriter who at one time served as communications director for the Massachusetts Republican Party, helping Bill Weld become the first Bay State Republican in a generation to be elected Governor. He was Chief Speechwriter for Republican Governor Paul Cellucci and Lt. Governor Jane Swift. Ted is also the author of the hardly-read 1992 history "Time for a Change: The Return of the Republican Party in Massachusetts." So, why the current hostility to the Republican Party and what passes for conservatism today? The Republican Party was once a national governing party that looked out for the interests of the nation as a whole. Now it is the wholly-owned subsidiary of self interest. Conservatism once sought national unity to promote social peace and harmony. Now conservatism has devolved into a right wing mutation that uses divide and conquer tactics to promote the solidarity of certain social sub-groups united against the larger society while preserving the privileges of a few.


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NOVEMBER 7, 2012 11:27AM

Is Another Tip O'Neill/Ronald Reagan Grand Bargain Possible?

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The hidden winner in last night's historic election may be Republican House Speaker John Boehner whose home state of Ohio put President Barack Obama over the top for a second term.

If Boehner plays his cards right he may be able to reprieve the role made famous by Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill and conservative icon Ronald Reagan back in the early 1980s when these two old fashioned Irish pols reconciled themselves to the reality they had to work together, which they did, most famously in hammering together a compromise putting Social Security on a more sustainable basis.

During Obama's stirring victory speech last night reaffirming that what makes America exceptional "are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on Earth," the President pointedly reached out to a Republican Party that is now almost entirely middle-aged, fundamentalist and white, offering an agenda that could form the basis of a bi-partisan Grand Bargain: "reducing our deficit, reforming our tax code, fixing our immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil."

To accept the President's olive branch and invitation to become a constructive governing partner on these and other issues all Boehner needs to do is separate himself from the Tea Party intransigence that has gridlocked Washington for most of Obama's first term - an ideological rigidity that defines compromise as capitulation and sees bi-partisanship as both major parties marching in regimental lock-step with a far right conservative worldview.

New York Times writer Robert Draper captured the flavor of what Speaker Boehner has been up against in his own Republican House caucus these past two years when he recounted the conversation GOP veteran Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson had with one of these far right freshman at the height of the Tea Party-engineered debt ceiling fiasco in August 2011.

Emerson asked the new congressman to please explain to her why he and his Tea Party colleagues thought it was no big deal for the United States to default on its debt. She wanted to know because every time Emerson had tried to bring up the subject with her constituents a shouting match had ensued.

"Because we've spent way too much money," the freshman explained to the bewildered Emerson," and if default is the price we have to pay, then so be it."

You asshole! the Congresswoman thought to herself. Do you really not understand what could happen here? Emerson later told her husband when she got home to pour her a big glass of wine "because I cannot believe that I had this conversation with someone who was elected to Congress."

But don't be too hard on the Tea Party freshman. He was merely reflecting what he'd been told by his ideological superior, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, who once said he'd prefer to have just 30 reliably conservative senators instead of a majority if it consisted of wishy-washy Republicans.

"I don't want to have power until we have principles," DeMint told a Tea Party crowd in front of the South Carolina State House.

For his own part, the perpetually-tanned John Boehner is far too temperamentally sluggish and intellectually dim to be a passionate ideologue about anything. And so the convincing repudiation the American people administered yesterday to what passes for mainstream Republicanism today may finally have given the heretofore hapless House Speaker the political capital he needs to put the Tea Party in its place. That way, maybe Boehner's inner deal-maker may finally have room to breathe.

Over the past two year, Speaker Boehner has been every bit as much a hostage to fortune as the rest of us after the arrival in Washington of 87 Tea Party extremists who fancied themselves on a mission from God to dismantle a freedom-crushing federal government in order to give back to the American people their constitutionally-guaranteed, severely conservative, birthright inheritance.

That giant gavel the soft-speaking Boehner held in his hand on his first weepy day as Speaker turned out to be no Big Stick at all as the Speaker found himself repeatedly humiliated by firebrand freshmen -- egged on by Jacobin connivers like Majority Leader Eric Cantor - who believed (probably rightly) their days in Congress would be numbered if they ever made the least effort to work across the aisle with Democrats.

Yet, elections have consequences and there is room here for constructive accomplishments that would be good for both the country and our two political parties -- but only so long as Republicans remembered who won the election and so confined themselves to shaping the liberal mandate Democrats have been given by the American people in more Republican-friendly ways, instead of trying to dictate terms the way Republicans have been doing ever since Barack Obama was first elected.

I can't say I am overly optimistic about the GOP's ability to reach a bargain with anyone, even after another national humiliation like the one Republicans suffered last night. Certainly not when there are conservatives out there like Michael Walsh, who writes for William F. Buckley's National Review, insisting that the objective for Mitt Romney and Republicans in 2012 was to "finish the job," to "crush them," by which he meant that the Democratic Party and "the modern Left -- the unholy spawn of '30s gangland and '60s academic Marxism -- must be forced to its knees in surrender."

It's hard to see how President Obama and the Democrats will ever be able to forge a reasonable rapprochement with Republicans who listen to people like Walsh and believe the Democratic agenda consists entirely of "revenge" - "payback time for slavery and segregation; payback for poverty; payback for foreign wars; payback for restrictive immigration laws" - wedge issues all designed to "crack the larger social structure and now, so close to realizing the ultimate expression that everything about America stinks."

It may be impossible to find common ground with such vile hatefulness. But if  we can help a new conventional wisdom to congeal that Mitt Romney was done in mostly because he could not separate himself from the growing extremism within his own Republican Party, then maybe reaching out to Republicans might be worth the effort after all.

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I'd say that qualifies as an audacious hope. Why? Barack Obama may be compared (unfortunately) to Ronald Reagan, but John Boehner sure as hell is no Tip O'Neill. Indeed, I'd say the odds are far better Boehner loses his job as Speaker.

Rapproachment with Obama is absolute anathema to the Teapartians, and as they've proven time and again, they'd much rather fall on their ideological swords than actually do the hard work of governing. The Insane Clown Posse are Pyrrhicists of the first -- and worst -- order.

My prediction? Eric Can'tor replaces Boehner, and Republicans double-down on obstructionism. Certainly, that's the crown of thorns Mitch McConnell threw at Obama after his re-election.

I also predict that if they do so, the death knell will toll for the Republican Party. Demographics no longer favor bending over for the old, angry, racist white base. The only question that remains is how much longer a racist asshole like Jim DeMint can survive even in South Carolina, given that state's changing demographics,
If I had to put money on it, Tom, I would say you are right. But I thought it was at least mentioning that we were on the cusp of what could be a reaalignment of power within the GOP, however unlikely.

Right wing conservatives are true believers, ideologues, who care less about winning elections than using the political system to transform the culture and country in a way that matches their doctrinaire worldview. And so they are not content with a seat at the table. They want the whole table. For generations the GOP managed to keep the lunatic fringe in the wilderness. The GOP is now the fringe. And so it is an open question whether the fringe will ever be dislodged from its control of the party or whether decades from now some new party forms around ideas the Democratic Party is unable to include within its increasingly growing tent.
Cruel perhaps, but the only thing Boehner appears to have in common with Tip O'Niell is a battle with the bottle.
Cruel perhaps, but the only thing Boehner appears to have in common with Tip O'Niell is a battle with the bottle.
I don't think this will be enough to genuinely reform the GOP. Lopsided as it was, given Romney's credentials, there's still lots of wiggle room for them to say the problem was that he wasn't conservative enough. It's going to take much more definitive a victory for them to get America is turning brown.

If I was Hillary, I'd take good care of myself these next four years. I wouldn't want to get sick and miss making all that history.
You're right about the likelihood of continued gridlock Ted. But let's see how the coming GOP civil war will play out. The true believers will reckon that they'd have won, or at least have had a prouder defeat, had they only nominated a true conservative. Saner elements already realize that the party has lurched too far to the right. How this plays out in congress is uncertain.