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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DECEMBER 29, 2012 12:24PM

GOP Needs "Big Tent" For All Those Leaving It

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When Republicans talk about a "Big Tent" nowadays it's not to welcome newcomers but to shelter refugees who've either been pushed out or fled by themselves (like me) rather than take part in a party intent on making itself over into a leaner, if meaner, political machine.

The latest veteran Republican to throw up his hands in despair (and disgust) is Mark McKinnon, long-standing media adviser for George W. Bush, John McCain, Ann Richards and many other Republican candidates besides.

In a Daily Beast column this week, McKinnon expressed his disappointment that Santa did not grant him his Christmas wish by putting a new Republican Party under the tree.

McKinnon said he'd have been satisfied with the old GOP - the one of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, even George W. Bush. What he didn't want was the GOP we've got today - the one that other Republican refugee, Nicolle Wallace, called "the Stupid Party."

As McKinnon sees it, voters look at the present fiscal cliff negotiations and see, on the one side, a President who just won an election by a substantial margin nevertheless willing to compromise with Republicans by lowering his tax revenue demands by $400 billion and raising the salary level of those he would hold harmless from $250,000 a year to $400,000 a year. And on the other side, says McKinnon, voters "see Republicans responding with a one-finger salute to everything."

"All sanity seems to have left the ranks of those in charge of the GOP," says McKinnon, citing as a for example Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who said on Morning Joe he won't vote for any tax increase on anyone, no matter how much they make, even if his no vote means everyone's taxes go up as we head over the cliff.

The Republican response to the Sandy Hook School massacre isn't much better, says McKinnon. What most people would label common sense solutions to gun violence, namely better controls on who can buy a gun and what kind of gun they can buy, Republicans call instead "politicizing" a tragedy in order to advance some freedom-stealing, leftist political agenda.  

Time and time again, says McKinnon, the GOP has shown itself to be party that "is against everything and for nothing: Nothing on taxes. Nothing on gun control. Nothing on climate change. Nothing on gay marriage. Nothing on immigration reform (or an incremental, piece-by-piece approach, which will result in nothing)."

McKinnon says it is a "very odd situation" when the losing party is the one that refuses to negotiate and thinks it is still entitled to make demands and set the terms of the debate. "That may be how you disrupt," says McKinnon, "but it is not how you govern, or how you ever hope to regain a majority."

And so what we have, says McKinnon, is "a Republican Party willing to eliminate any prospect for a decent future for anyone, including itself, if it cannot be a future that is 100% in accordance with its core beliefs and principles."

That's not governing, says McKinnon. "That's just lobbing hand grenades. If you're only standing on principle to appear taller, then you appear smaller. And the GOP is shrinking daily before our eyes."

Exactly. And two of the more shameless propagandists on the Right, Michael Medved and Charles Krauthammer, provided perfect examples this week of just the dysfunction McKinnon complains about when they recast ordinary policy disputes in scary, apocalyptic terms.

On Sean Hannity's program, Krauthammer asserted that the proposals President Obama has put forth to reduce the deficit and avert the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that kick in on January 1 are really designed to foment divisions within Speaker Boehner's House Republican Caucus.

To gain four more years to do whatever he pleases, says Krauthammer, Obama must "destroy the Republicans." He must "fracture them" and "create civil war in the House" in order to neutralize those "recalcitrant" Tea Party Republicans who will stand in the President's way during his second term just as they blocked his agenda after the 2010 mid-terms.  

And the best way for the President to achieve this end, says Krauthammer, is by insisting - "and this is extremely clever, tactically on his part" - that the one thing Republicans have to agree on is to increase "tax rates" on the rich.

You can almost see Krauthammer rolling metal balls in his hand like some maniacal Captain Queeg as he schemes out his imaginary conspiracy whereby a cunning President declines to raise the revenues he needs by closing tax exemptions and deductions but instead insists on raising tax rates on the rich knowing Republicans will never be able to go along because of the "no tax pledges" they've already given or because the internal dynamics of their rigidly gerrymandered right wing districts won't let them.

Krauthammer pens a Grimm Fairy Tale that no doubt appeals to the feeble-minded who watch Sean Hannity. But it's a conspiracy that blames the President for the bitter fruit of the GOP's own inflexible extremism while at the same time ignoring the much simpler explanation that most experts say closing deductions, exemptions and other "loopholes" -- without touching income tax rates -- not only fails to raise the kind of revenue we need to make a substantial dent in the deficit but also raises taxes on the middle class, which is supposed to be the single policy result everyone wants to avoid.    

The grand conspiracy Krauthammer poses in order to coerce Republicans into keeping up a solid front against tax hikes on the rich is only slightly less idiotic than the cynical Holy War Michael Medved declares in today's Daily Beast.

According to Medved, the political polarization currently paralyzing Washington is entirely the fault of the Democratic Party and its "irrational reliance" on that "higher power" known as "confidence in government."

Medved says that every conceivable policy dispute that liberals and conservatives have comes down to a "visceral" if not quasi-religious disagreement between "relying on self-defense or on government protection."  

These conflicting faiths play out on curbing gun violence where gun-rights enthusiasts who say the best security for law-abiding citizens is to put firearms into their hands are pitted against gun-control advocates who believe we would all be safer if we gave the state a monopoly on violence - which happens to be one of the distinguishing characteristics of that thing we call a "nation-state."

This theological dispute plays itself out in foreign policy where Medved says the Right proclaims the ideal of "peace through strength" -- where the only guarantee of national security is for a "self-confident America" to outspend the rest of the world combined on war-making -- while liberals turn to diplomacy, "multilateral consensus," disarmament, and international institutions to protect the nation instead.

Likewise, on economic questions, Medved recites well-known right wing boilerplate about the economy performing better "if money is controlled by those who earn it" rather than being entrusted to "the superior wisdom and broader perspective of a larger, more activist government to distribute rewards and plan for the future in a complex economy."

More than 30 years of experience and data debunking supply-side nostrums about tax cuts paying for themselves, or creating jobs for everyone instead of concentrating wealth for a few, is apparently not persuasive enough to prevent Medved from insisting that our economic disputes are really religious ones where "principles" trump "policy" and where "the right preaches self-reliance while the left places its trust in the higher power of government."

Medved's ideologically-driven abstractions about liberals who "worship" Big Government for its own sake as if it were some graven image reflects the same paranoid style of politicking as Charles Krauthammer's assertion that President Obama campaigned on the idea of raising tax rates on the wealthy for the single, sinister purpose of splintering the Republican Party.

This is what Mark McKinnon (and David Frum, and Andrew Sullivan, and E.J. Dionne, and David Brooks, and Norm Ornstein, and Thomas Mann, and I) means when he says the GOP is no longer a national, "normal," governing party.

Michael Medved and Charles Krauthammer are not serious commentators.  Instead, they are right wing ideologues. And we know this because the arguments they make are not serious arguments but ones that look at politics as if it were some grand ideological spectacle, a take-no-prisoners fight to the death between left and right, secular progressive against righteous conservative.

But politics is none of these things. Instead, it is the everyday struggle of fallible human beings who make a good faith effort to find the best possible solution to the difficult problems we face.

This is what we call "governing." Yet, responsible governing is the last thing a right wing radical like Charles Krauthammer has in mind when he foments gridlock by telling House Republicans and their easily-offended constituents that the President of the United States has malevolent intentions when he carries out his brilliantly conceived scheme to fracture the Republican Party by asking the wealthy to pay their fair share.

Neither is the habit of sensible governance present in the lunatic, theocratic ravings of Michael Medved when he accuses liberals of practicing a profane religion and worshiping a false god when they do nothing more blasphemous than propose that Americans work together through the democratic institutions we've created for ourselves to solve our common problems in common.

Mark McKinnon says the world is changing "faster than ever" and so the Republican Party had better change with it or else condemn itself "to a smaller and smaller base of core supporters and permanent minority status."

The world is changing. But the problem for Republicans is not that the American people are moving forward, but back. After three decades of hand-to-hand ideological combat, war-weary Americans are moving back to their roots. We pride ourselves on our pragmatism, on our "Yankee Ingenuity," on our Good Old American Know-how. We are a problem-solving people who want to be governed by other sensible problem-solving people.

And so, as the last several elections have shown, Americans are growing progressively impatient with the drama queens in the Republican Party who are stealing our democracy by making it dysfunctional.

We are weary of those who are indifferent to practical answers to difficult questions and prefer instead to recast every dispute as a contest between Good and Evil as they repeat in their own way words made famous the last time the dark spirit of self-righteousness split their party in two: "The victory shall be ours and it shall be won as we have already won so many victories - by clean and honest fighting for the loftiest of causes. We fight in honorable fashion for the good of mankind, fearless for the future, unheeding of our individual fates, with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes. We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord."

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For those elected officials and other people in power who practice self-hating government, I would urge you to exercise your freedom from government regulation by driving on the wrong side of the road. Traffic rules are socialism, you know.

On a more serious note, what needs to be done inside the GOP is to start running candidates in primaries who are to the left of the wingnuts, positing a reality based form of Republicanism. The longer the terrible two-sters in Congress scream and hold their breath, even super red states like Oklahoma or Kansas should see challenges to the existing order within the GOP. At least I certainly hope that some of this happens in 2014.
Terrific essay...lots of fine observations and ideas.

But I doubt anyone can sell these people on sanity.
Great read as per usual.
It's ok to lower taxes while starting two wars, borrowing billions per month to fund the war machine. Not ok to spend money on, god forbid, anything at home, because they are "fiscally responsible."
When I was growing up in Oregon most Republicans were moderates. Oregon is generally thought to be a liberal state, but back in the olden days we often elected Republicans. Tom McCall, a Republican governor, was a respected environmentalist, and Mark Hatfield was a very popular Republican governor and senator, and known for his opposition to the Vietnam War. Back then there were a few Republicans on the fringe -- members of the John Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, and suchlike -- who believed that fluoridated water, sex education, and labor unions were all communist conspiracies. The Republican fringe existed, but it was small and had little influence.

Today the Republican party is "all fringe and no center," as the saying goes. Today a McCall or a Hatfield would be all but cast out of the Republican party, while people who would have been laughed at fifty years ago are now considered to be "mainstream" Republicans.