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 14, 2012 10:19AM

Two Views of the Republican Party's Future

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If Republicans are ever going to be a national governing party again they will need people like James A. Peyser in their corner.

In Sunday's Boston Globe, the one-time education adviser to three Massachusetts Republican governors says it is not enough for moderate Republicans like Scott Brown (and even Mitt Romney during his Moderate Mitt phase) to disguise their ties to the national Dixiefied Republican Party.  

If Republicans are to survive outside the reactionary white South they must carve out for themselves a wholly separate policy and political identity that is one step shy of a new third party, much as conservative "boll weevil" Democrats did during the Reagan era and the liberal Republican "gypsy moths" did as the GOP began its move to the right.

Being conservative is not what disqualifies Republicans in Massachusetts, says Peyser, because Massachusetts Republicans have always been conservative. What drags Bay State Republicans down is their association with a national party that is extreme.

"Yankee conservatism" is a very different thing from the revanchist right wing populism that defines today's GOP, says Peyser, which may be why New England and the Deep South have always been natural antagonists,  bitter rivals, even when allied within the same political party.

The habits of negotiation, compromise and governance learned by New England's Brahmin elders as they managed unwieldy coalitions of Yankees, WASPs, Italians, Jews and others in order to compete with the Irish Catholic Democratic machines that ran Boston and other big cities, could not be more different from the brute force of assumed prerogatives taken for granted by the South's planter class and, later, by the region's white Christian majority.

It was this Southern white majority that viewed politics not as "the art of the possible" or a means for building peaceful and harmonious communities through compromise, but rather as  "war by other means" in which an embattled majority fights to protect its way of life against hostile infiltration and outside contamination.

The fact that the South's view of politics is now the dominant one inside today's GOP explains more than anything else why American politics is at an impasse and the Republican Party, as we learned last week, is at a dead end.  

As the GOP looks for a corrective it might want to consider a pragmatic New England conservatism that Peyser says is "serious about addressing the country's fundamental problems," unlike the "all-or-nothing approach" of the party's Tea Party wing that has engaged in an "unprecedented number of filibusters" as well as an "equally problematic pattern" of party-line votes on matters that have no chance of becoming law.

"Republicans used to be the party of ideas; seeking out and developing innovative, market-based approaches to solving problems," says Peyser. Yet today that same party walks away from its own policies once they are embraced by Democrats, such as emissions trading and the individual health insurance mandate.

Worse, Republican leaders "have mostly kept silent while a rising tide of know-nothingism has swept through their ranks," says Peyser, and as candidates "who are clearly unqualified" are embraced and promoted by the GOP's party apparatus and aligned media.

Notwithstanding real differences on culture war issues like abortion, gay marriage, and illegal immigration, "too many voices of the Republican Party and conservative talk radio have adopted a harsh tone that is disrespectful, at best," says Peyser.

And on foreign affairs, the continuing influence of neo-conservatives in the party's ranks who constantly press for unilateral military action, make Republicans seem incapable of learning the lesson from "more than 10 years of costly and indecisive wars," says Peyser.

What Peyser has in mind is no quick fix based on more clever or snappier slogans but a retrofit that creates a sensible faction within the GOP as a first step toward eventually wresting control of the Republican Party away from those who are still in denial about the lessons of last week's election.

And Jim Peyser may be just the kind of Republican to do it, a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the son of a New York Congressman who served six years as a Republican during the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations and four years as a Democrat under Ronald Reagan.  

I worked with Jim when he was responsible for developing charter schools as Undersecretary of Education under Governor Bill Weld, and later when he replaced the late John Silber as Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education.

Yet, someone I've known even longer shows why Jim's aim of creating a more sensible and inclusive Republicanism remains a very heavy lift.

On the very same page as Peyser's prescriptions for a more relevant Republican Party, the Globe's resident conservative, Jeff Jacoby, was revealing why conservatives saw the 2012 election as an existential threat to the Old Order, the ancien regime, when he said the biggest problem with Massachusetts Republicans "is that too many of them just want to be on the winning side."

I've known Jacoby for more than 30 years, ever since he was policy director for Ray Shamie during the conservative businessman's US Senate campaign against Ted Kennedy. Later, when I worked for Shamie as communication director of the Massachusetts GOP after Shamie became party Chairman, I came to know Jacoby as one of those conservatives who was always blaming every Republican loss on the fact the party was not, in his view, conservative enough.

And so I was not surprised when Jacoby wrote on Sunday that Republicans need not change their ways or "run from the Republican brand," but only need to find a better way of articulating "why you want to win and why you want to do so with an 'R' after your name."

What's the point of being a Republican if the only goal is winning elections and dislodging Democrats? Jacoby wants to know.

"There have always been partisans, both Republican and Democrat, for whom politics is chiefly a kind of sport, with tribal loyalties and campaign playbooks and a prize to be won through shrewd tactics and subtle strategy," he says

Hence the "endlessly-recycled nattering about the damaged Republican brand," complains Jacoby, complete with warnings about how the GOP is doomed to keep losing until it rids itself of positions incompatible with the prevailing political culture.

This invariably leads to calls for Republican candidates "who are liberal on social issues, moderately conservative on fiscal issues, and generally eager to distance themselves from the national Republican Party," says Jacoby.

But this is wrong, says Jacoby. The ticket is recruiting Republicans who can talk passionately and persuasively "about the liberty, limited government, and low taxes" that Republicans believe "empowers citizens with autonomy and initiative."

These alliterating L-words emanate from the same crippled Republican imagination that once turned "liberalism" into the original "L-word" as a prelude to the Republican Party's forced march to the far right.

And so, it's hard not to read in Jacoby's prescription for the GOP the same underlying presumptions of those who take it for granted that pregnancies conceived through violence and forced rape are "gifts from God" -- even though Republicans who think this way do concede that, next time, they need to do a better job keeping these idiosyncratic obscenities to themselves.

But Jacoby's brand of conservatism is not about a commitment to liberty and limited government and never has been, says Corey Robin, author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. Conservatives have often adapted and adopted "the language of democratic reform to the cause of hierarchy," says Robin, and while liberty and low taxes may be by-products of conservatism, its animating force is "opposition to the liberation of men and women from the fetters of their superiors, particularly in the private sphere."

Conservatives talk a good game about the free market and the autonomous individual, says Robin. But when conservatives look out on society they do not see isolated individuals but "hierarchical groups, where a father governs his family and an owner his employees."

The conservative coalition has always been an unstable organic compound at risk of flying apart in all directions. What unites this unruly collective is the belief that a world in which the masses are genuinely free and self-governing would be "ugly, brutish, base and dull," says Robin.

And it is this inveterate, authoritarian elitism that brings together the libertarian "with his vision of the employer's untrammeled power in the workplace" and the traditionalist "with his vision of the father's rule at home" and the statist "with his vision of a heroic leader pressing his hand upon the face of the earth."

Each of these groups in their own way, says Robin, subscribe to the 19th century conservative creed that "to obey a real superior is one of the most important of all virtues -- a virtue absolutely essential to the attainment of any thing great and lasting."

If you doubt Robin's contention that the "reaction" in reactionary is not some base and lowly grab for power but an unshakable belief that only the elect few are fit to rule, then consider that in 2012 we saw the most sustained assault on labor unions, voting rights and women's reproductive freedoms in half a century while the most popular film on the Right was 2016: Obama's America, a documentary by Dinesh D'Souza that tried to portray the President of the United States as an African anti-colonialist.  

Like other right wing ideologues, Jeff Jacoby is so blinded by what he assumes to be the inerrant correctness of conservatism that he is unable to conceive why some people might hear in Jacoby's appeals to "liberty, limited government and low taxes" code words for the very same white plutocratic and patriarchal rule that was repudiated by the American people last Tuesday.

Thus we have two visions on the very same page of tomorrow's Republican Party: one rooted firmly in an inclusive future; the other beckoning to an exclusive and dying past.

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"the same underlying presumptions of those who take it for granted that pregnancies conceived through violence and forced rape are "gifts from God""

Therein lies the rub. A change in tactics may improve the lot of Republicans, but any gains will only be temporary as long as underlying beliefs remain unchanged. Among those beliefs are White Supremacy, American Exceptionalism, Rugged Individualism, Creationism, the Moral Superiority of Christianity, the Absolute Sanctity of Property, and aversion to the Commonweal other than for military might.

It's hard to imagine a scenario under which the Republican Party willingly divests itself of a substantial portion of it's Wingnut Contingent, and it's even harder to imagine that contingent willingly compromising with "satanic and ungodly liberals and secular humanists". As long as the Party engages in dog-whistle politics and kow-tows to Kindergarten Kristian Konservatives, its problems with the electorate are likely to remain intractable.

Can the leper change his spots? The intractability of Jacoby and so many others whose beliefs are unlikely to change suggests the answer is "no".
Tom, I agree. I don't see how a "leper" changes its spots since the radical right, which takes in a lot of what we call the Tea Party, is not interested in winning elections. They don't even care about governing. They want a new country and will not be content until they get it.
Day by day, incident by incident, I become more and more aware of the clear evidence that America has embraced un-sanity as its central political and economic theme. It has spilled over into all the world with which it does any kind of business. What kind of a philosophy is unbridled greed and unchecked lust for power, for a modern, educated people to pursue?

Is there no more to seek in life than money and power?

the shibboleths of the republican party in its sane moments are obsolete. the world is not flat, resources not endless, pollution not trivial, and endless growth on a sphere is insanity.

we live on spaceship earth now, it must be managed and wisely. the only pertinent question is shall it be managed by the people assembled, or by oligarchy.
The large popular vote that Tea Partiers R&R got is fuelling the battle for control of the GOP as we write here. The Old Guard will lose and the Republicans will block anything they can block for the rest of Obama's term. Their campaign for 2016 has started already. It's a good chance that they'll win in 2016 too.

If not then they'll shoot for 2020. Sooner or later they'll get it. That will be the inauguration of a fascist/religious/oligarchy in the US.

Are you ready for a new Dark Ages? This one will last a long, long time and try its best to own the world. And, sadly, it'll likely do it too.
Maybe we should exchange the term "conservatism" for "hierarchism" to make this ideology's deepest core value more apparent, and to distinguish it from both libertarianism and social democracy. These are, I think, the three primary colors in the American political palette, forming an "ideological triangle." r!
I coined the term "consumatives" to refer to these folks. The "drill, baby, drill" mentality is not conservative, so I guess you could call their "belief" system "consumatism".
I coined the term "consumatives" to refer to these folks. The "drill, baby, drill" mentality is not conservative, so I guess you could call their "belief" system "consumatism".
No offense Ted, since I know you used to run with them, but it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys.

I don't think the party is going to change until Citizens United is off the books. Contrary to the accepted agreement, they are the ones who suffer from it the most since it means the party will continue to be underwritten by the big shots and not be forced to earn an honorable living by actually changing its policies to serve the greater good.

The much ballyhood "permanent" majority Rove spoke about is more likely to be Democratic than Republican. Every indication is that Obama will maintain his strategy of appealing to moderates and thereby set the stage for 2016. (You go girl) A lot could intervene but if it doesn't the party will be even more marginalized.

You can't fool all these dummies all the time, you can get close, as they did, which only gives them more excuses to turn their backs on the future of the nation by only projecting their own prejudices.


Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch indeed! And I think you are right: The future is with the Democratic Party -- and not just because of demographics. Democrats also have the right ideas about the nature of government and governing. Republicans have basically abandoned the field of governance by stigmatizing anything that involves the public sector and smacks of collective action as "socialism."

But global economic and technological changes are coming so rapidly now that it is social suicide to allow a small plutocratic elite to restructure our economy every decade or so just because they can and then leave the great masses of workers to basically fend for themselves as they try to readjust. Most of what Bill O'Reilly calls "stuff" is government trying to help its people make those adjustments, whether by investing in education and retraining or by investing in R&D or seed money to make sure that when profits are made in an emerging field like sustainable energy they will be made in this country and not just by a few people living in this country who buy stock in those companies overseas.