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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FEBRUARY 9, 2013 12:02PM

No "Gipper" To Save GOP This Time

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In Republican mythology, Ronald Reagan was just Barry Goldwater with a smile.  

To the right wing true believer, Reagan and Goldwater were congenial political bedfellows, their ideas about government being the problem not the solution cut from the same ideological cloth. This was delightful for conservatives because it allowed them to use Reagan's landslide victories in 1980 and 1984 to wipe away bitter memories of Goldwater's own history-making shellacking in 1964.

More important, Reagan's twin triumphs gave Republicans the chance to redeem the reputation of right wing conservatism as not being "extreme" at all. Conservatism was mainstream, even popular, Republicans insisted, just so long as its messenger was an amiable Great Communicator and not some temperamental grump stupid enough to say out loud that extremism was no vice -- provided it was done in pursuit of ideas Republicans knew in their heart to be right.

That's the historical takeaway Republicans are applying today as they chart a possible new course for their party.  

In November, Republicans failed for the fifth time in six tries to win a national majority. And so the $64,000 question is: Can the GOP change? Can it moderate its far right instincts and inclinations and once again become a sensible, national governing party able to appeal to a broader swath of the American electorate?

If we are to believe recent attempts by such high profile Republicans as Governor Bobby Jindal and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to reposition their party, the answer to that question is: We don't have to. And the reason they don't -- the reason Republicans cling stubbornly to their far right extremism -- is Ronald Reagan, and how Reagan proved the "experts" wrong when they said conservatism was dead after Goldwater's monumental drubbing in 1964.

In his speech last month imploring Republicans to stop being the "stupid party," Governor Jindal dutifully "spanked his party for its stale clichés" about immigrants and women's rights, said David Brooks. But when you scratched the surface, said Brooks, there were "more calls for change than actual evidence of change."

Cantor wasn't much better. Expectations ran high that Cantor's big speech this week to the American Enterprise Institute would deliver on its promise to show "how Republican ideas could benefit families across the nation," as one Cantor aide put it.

The Wall Street Journal even gave Cantor's speech a "breathless preview" under the headline, "A GOP Leader Aims to Change Party's Message," notes New Republic's Alec MacGillis. But the only big idea Cantor offered was cutting the tax on medical devices. Seriously?

As for the rest, Cantor offered nothing but bromides about "individual freedom" and the need to stick with "conservative principles" as he talked up such golden oldies as school vouchers and block-granting Medicaid using new and improved language that framed these reliable right wing standbys as fresh ideas for "helping middle class families."

In offering ways Republicans might build new appeal to ordinary voters, neither Cantor, Jindal, Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan have "proposed actual reform or a departure from the arch-conservative policies that defined Mitt Romney's bid for the presidency," says American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie.

Instead, Republicans have merely pushed new rhetoric for the same policies in an attempt to navigate between the real political constraints of the GOP base and a real need for change.

"What's really going on in all these Big Speeches is very simple," says the Washington Monthly's Ed Kilgore. "Having won control of the Republican Party after nearly a half century of struggle, the conservative movement does not want to hear that now is the time for the GOP to reconsider its ideology. The only real question now is at what point GOP leaders declare themselves 'changed' and 'reformed' for having listened to all these speeches."

The press, to its credit, has been fairly dismissive of this new marketing pitch, says Bouie. NBC News called it a "cosmetic makeover" while National Journal dismissed it as a substance-free Republican "charm offensive."

But the broader problem for Republicans, as Bouie says, is the difficulty of crafting a governing agenda for a party whose ideology is hostile not only to government but politics itself, if we define politics as premised on disagreement and compromise over fundamental principles conservatives consider non-negotiable and even sacrosanct.

"If the Republican Party has left itself any space for embracing constructive governing solutions, it's hard to find," says Bouie.

But what do you expect from a party that is "effectively a religious organization founded on unalterable doctrines and not a sane political party," as Andrew Sullivan writes - one  that finds itself on the losing end of demographic change and up against an electorate that does not respond to its core positions.

Such a party, if it refuses to change, basically faces two choices. It can either craft a better marketing and communications message and hope to fool some of the people some of the time about the underlying unpopularity of its ideas, as Republicans like Cantor and Jindal are currently trying to do. Or, it can cheat, as Republicans are also attempting to do, in their efforts to rig the system in order to give themselves the majority of electoral votes even when they lose.

Republicans are hoping a Ronald Reagan feel good, Morning in America-like message will resonate with American voters and, once again, work it's magic and make American's forget all about Barry Goldwater's extremism being no vice. Only that can explain why two such prominent Republicans as Jindal and Cantor would devote so much valuable prime time space not toward rethinking the GOP's hard right ideology but toward repackaging it in kinder colors and gentler shades and hues.

But there's a glaring flaw with this strategy for the GOP: While Ronald Reagan the legend may be revered by present day Republicans, Reaganism isn't. As numerous commentators noted during the just completed election, no matter how idolized "The Gipper" may be by Republicans, when you look at Reagan's actual record -- raising taxes 11 times; saving Social Security and thus rescuing the centerpiece of the reviled New Deal; sitting down and making nice with the leader of the Soviet Union's Evil Empire -- the real Ronald Reagan could never win their party's nomination today.

In short, while Reagan won the hearts of Republicans, the Goldwaterism that was roundly rejected by Americans everywhere outside the Old Confederacy 50 years ago is still their party's spiritual heart and soul in 2013.

Take a look at the House Republican Caucus. This is not Ronald Reagan's Republican Party. It's Barry Goldwater's - or at least Barry Goldwater on steroids, because Goldwater's frontier-style libertarianism had no tolerance for the busy-bodies of the Religious Right.

To understand what is going on in today's GOP you have to go back half a century and to the right wing movement that nominated Goldwater for president -- and then looked on as he suffered one of the greatest humiliations in American political history.

Most conservatives, such as the badly abused "moderates" who once inhabited the Republican "establishment," are mainly concerned with "maintaining a tissue of institutions for whose stability and effectiveness they believe the country's business and political elites hold responsibility," writes historian Richard Hofstadter in his post-mortem of the 1964 election, "Goldwater and Pseudo-Conservative Politics."

Goldwater, on the other hand, says Hofstadter, "thinks of conservatism as a system of eternal and unchanging ideas and ideals, whose claims upon us must be constantly asserted and honored in full."

The difference is between a conservatism "as a set of doctrines whose validity is to be established by polemics" and a conservatism as a "set of rules whose validity is to be established by their useability in government."

And that difference, says Hofstadter, is not one of "nuance" but of "fundamental substance."  Hence the split within the Republican Party and the exiling of all moderate and establishment RINOs

Among ultra-conservatives "for whom the old pieties are binding moral principles," the Eisenhower Administration's refusal to immediately embark upon a program of dismantling the New Deal, doing away with high taxes and repudiating liberalism in all its forms, "was worse than a disappointment," said Hofstadter. "It was a betrayal."

When the supporters of Barry Goldwater argued that America was governed by means of "hypnotic manipulation, corruption and betrayal," they were indulging in more than just the "fantasies of indignant patriots," said Hofstadter. They were questioning the legitimacy of the political order itself.

If politics were like economics then elections would serve the same function as the price mechanism does, telling parties like businesses how they must adjust their product design and cost to meet changing demands in a perfectly competitive marketplace.  

But unlike professional politicians who want above all else to win, and whose conduct is therefore shaped by that pragmatic goal -- and by the accountability which popular elections provide -- Hofstadter said the "zealots" who followed Goldwater "were moved more by the desire to dominate the party than to win the country, concerned more to express resentments and punish 'traitors' (read: RINOs), to justify a set of values and assert grandiose, militant visions than to actually solve problems of state."

More important, said Hofstadter, Goldwater's right wing supporters "were immune to the pressure to move over from an extreme position toward the center of the political spectrum which is generally exerted by the professionals desire to win."

That is because their true objective was not winning an election but capturing a major party to serve as a platform "from which to propagandize for a sound view of the world."

Look at Goldwater himself, says Hofstadter. He ran no important organization. He assumed no important role in the US Senate. He wrote no consequential legislation. Rather, Goldwater gained national notoriety as a "partisan exhorter and organizer. A speaker and ideologue for whom preaching a sound philosophy was more interesting than addressing himself to the problems of state."

And when Goldwater became the GOP's standard-bearer in 1964 -- and its spiritual leader today, whether Republicans recognize that or not -- Goldwater made up for his lack of stature as a statesman by his outstanding ability, as Hofstadter put it, to be "a partisan evangelist who particularly mobilized those Republicans whose discontent was keenest, whose ideological fervor was strongest" and who were the most dissatisfied with "the bland and circumspect" Republican Party that emerged from the New Deal years.

And that was the Goldwater who, a half century ago, was rejected by voters in every state but his own and those which went to war with their own country in 1861.

You can either read about the right wing enthusiasm for Barry Goldwater as ancient history or as current events. It really does not matter, for the truth is that what Hofstadter refers to as the pseudo-conservative "zealots" who briefly took over the GOP a generation ago are the same Tea Party fanatics who control the Republican Party today. But this time there is no Ronald Reagan to save them from themselves.  


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Blacks, browns, gays, and women have a long memory. Methinks the GOP is in for a long, cold ice age. Welcome to the liberal equivalent of 1980, GOP boys and girls. r
Fine summing up Ted. I agree that in office Reagan wasn't a whol lot different than Ike, at least in terms of foreign policy and the legislation he signed off on. There are a couple of exceptions. I thought that Reagan's emissaries dealt with Iran to keep the hostages imprisoned until Reagan took office. If that is true then it's treason.

Iran figures again in the Iran-contra scandal where the US secretly sold arms to Iran despite a US-led worldwide embargo of the trade. And the US was heavy-handed in lobbying other countries to comply. Then they used the dirty money to illegally fund the Nicaraguan contras despite a congressional resolution expressly prohibiting such funding. Nowadays the contras would likely be viewed as terrorists. Of course Ike can take "credit" overthrowing Mossadegh and the coup in Guatemala.

While Reagan was often pragmatic, he did entrench the "government is the problem, not the solution" mindset in much of the public imagination. This is now an article of faith for most of today's Republicans and their Tea Partian backers.

When you referred back to Goldwater and Hofstadter, I was reminded of scenes I'd seen from the 64 Republican convention, the first I ever saw. The outright hatred shown to Rockefeller, a reputable leader in their own party, was alarming.
'to them that hath, more shall be given.' or, 'the rich get richer, the poor get children.' both are expressions of the reality that probability favors the survival of an elite, and its increasing wealth from predation on the poor.

you can even see the principle at work in your poker game, as the well-heeled survive small runs of bad luck and accumulate the assets of those who went in under-capitalized.

capitalism is a poker game, oligarchy concentrates power, and america is inherently unstable. the gilded age led to the great depression, saved only by the 'socialization' arising from ww2. the current descent into a gilded age needs another war for existence if the grip of wealth is to be broken. the health of the republican party is of little consequence since the actual rulers own the democrat party too.
Brilliant writing, Ted, just brilliant. Once again and every time.

I never thought I'd be the one to say this, but, if we could just have more former Republicans -Republicans whom are former Republicans not just in name only, but, real, enlightened former Republicans- I think America, this House Divided, would once again stand straight and tall.

Wonderful work, Ted.
Furthermore, I shiver every time I remember that Grover Norquist once said that he'd like to shrink the American Government down until it's small enough to drown in a bathtub like a kitty, knowing that what he really meant was the Democratic Party...

Thanks everyone for your kind comments -- especially you Steve Kenny; who doesn't like being called brilliant!? I think you are right old new lefty about today being the liberal equivalent of the big right wing turnaround 30 years ago, and I fear al loomis may be right about the oligarchy's capture of both major parties. Globalization, mechanization and financialization are creating economic pressures that seem poised to make most work obsolete not just certain jobs and I wonder if governments have the wisdom and guts to take on the new global elite and carve out a space for a new middle class being hollowed out by rapid economic change. And Abrawang, to re-read reports of that Cow Palace convention is chilling, especially the fist-shaking treatment given to "establishment" Republicans like Rockefeller. Professor Kabaservice in his book about the decline of moderate Republicanism, "Rule and Ruin," has a whole chapter on that convention. I don't think we appreciate today what a shock the behavior there was, even to many Republicans. I am still trying to find the speech Rockefeller gave in which he warned the GOP about the growing "fascist" tendencies in their party, and yes he did use that word.
Only in politics can such an interesting pre-death autopsy be done. Even more interesting is that, if this pre-mortem post-mortem were to be understood by the cadaver, it might not become a cadaver.

As long as the GOP has access to unlimited funds so it's candidates can get paid there is no reason to change. Institutions, such as political parties and religious organizations do not in and of themselves have a conscience. They have a "group conscience" and that is a beast of an entirely different nature.

The Republican party has identified itself with the status quo during our era. The future is the Democrats' to lose and I think we got a guy in office right now who ain't gonna let that happen unless events are such that he is overwhelmed.

Rest Hillary. You're time is coming.
Ted, one of your best posts to date. I am fascinated by those who link Goldwater and Reagan because Reagan wasn't as true blue (or shall I say true Reagan red) compared to the true old soldiers. Having watched this debacle since I volunteered for the John Anderson campaign in 1980 at the beginning of my personal conversion to the dark side, it is fascinating to me how the old timers still cling to this trope. So where does this leave us? Karl Rove still riding the range trying to convince us that the medium IS the message, when there is no consistent messsage for the reality of today's world. Wake up, boys and smell the coffee (certainly not the tea....) RRRRRRRRR
As usual, I found neither the time nor the inclination to slog through this basically trivial commentary on the dismal state of the United States.

I was once taken by the notion that gossips talk about people, median people talk about events, and thinkers talk about ideas. Ted, you're struggling between categories one and two.

Whatever exercise you achieve by dancing on the Goldwater grave, the fact is that the nation wouldn't be in the pickle it's clearly in if the ideas behind Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative had been adopted by the American people.

Would you like a definition of pickle? On this, Obama's big day for another big speech, the North Koreans are ablaze with saber-rattling to commemorate the international impression that the U.S. is being managed by rank amateurs, American heroes are being epically neglected, Congress is deadlocked (not altogether a bad thing), and the American economy continues to swill around in the toilet.

Does this country have to edge even farther toward the precipice of collapse for the American people to realize that the socialist rhetoric you're peddling is making matters worse? I hope not.

I always appreciate your comments because they offer such a perfect distillation of everything that is wrong with conservatism.

You begin by ann0uncing that you "have neither the time nor the inclination" to read what I have to say. Yet you then feel perfectly qualified to judge it "trivial."

I once admired what I took to be the conservative inclination to base beliefs on fact and inconvenient truths. But somewhere along the way, probably after they had won a few victories, conservatives discovered that the manipulation of public opinion through propaganda and dishonest rhetoric was both easier and more politically profitable in the short run than enduring the grunt work necessary to educate public opinion, one mind at a time.

Why take the time, as you have so eloquently put it here, to "slog" your way through another's argument when you can just label it "liberal," or whatever, instead and be done with it?

But now all conservatives have left are their empty slogans and buzzwords about "freedom," "individualism," "American exceptionalism" and "conservative principles" that are devoid of real content or meaning but which conservatives stitch together nonetheless as a substitute for real thinking.
Thank you sky, Ben and Bernadine for your comments -- and contratulations and good luck Bernadine on your continuing challenge.

You prove something I've now seen again and again blogging, which has gone a long way in helping to understand why so little changes and why it takes so long.

When presented with perfectly rational postions that invite discourse a broad segment of those who pretend to be interested, do no such thing. Instead, (the word I have come up with) they "dump" their antagonism and then run for cover. They lie in wait for those who make constructive efforts and then pounce.

Notice, they never do so with their own kind. I suspect they know full well it is a useless endeavor. It takes one to know one. They aren't looking for the truth, they are looking for momma to hear them.

It's sad ultimately but instructive. Their "politics" are a projection of themselves, not a contribution. We have them on the run now, but their forces are always with us waiting for their next disillusionment.

We are fortunate there are folks like you who want to make a difference.

Why whomever could you be talking about! Pretty sad, isn't it. But then bullies are always cowards in the end, aren't they. But you have put it perfectly: "they 'dump' their antagonism and then run for cover."

I do feel we have them on the run. Together, we are beginning to figure them out and deconstruct all of their tricks.
TF and BS

By the time the Benghazigate flag is fully unfurled. the twose of youse will be ashamed to have known, much less endorsed Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

As for running for cover, with those two clowns around, I'm running more for my life.

Writing hint for TF: a wise businsssman once said, "If I had more time, I'd write you a shorter letter." While Hillary is resting, why don't you relax a bit, too?
One serious problem with the alternative universe that GOPsters exist in is their characterization of the economy in a state of collapse. Fact of the matter is, the pitiful stimulus applied in 2008-09 held the economy from completely falling off the cliff. The socialization that the GOPsters natter on about not only saved the banking and auto industry, but it made the Federal government a profit!

And if the economy continues to improve under the rest of the Obama administration, perhaps future prosperity can be blamed on sunspots or numerology. Anything but Obama/Democratic policies.
Ted, you are so very insightful. Perhaps part of the problem is that the "paranoid style of politics" that Hofstadter chronicled is more likely to attract "true believers" in an internet and cable-fueled, sound-bite culture where the message matters far less than the substance. As W also showed, appeals to ignorance and fear do resonate among the ill-informed.
Of course, I think both the Democrats and the GOP are materialist lapdogs for global capital.

I think Gordon Osmond is absolutely insane for calling Obama and this author a socialist. I am a socialist and I wouldn't invite Obama, or Mr. Frier into the party (no offense to you , Mr. Frier. We would need to test your working class credentials, as well as those of your friends and your parents. We would also need to know if you have the proper ideological commitment to global socialism, the triumph of the proletariat and belief in the philosophical/scientific truths behind Marx's concept of historical materialism.

Obama, while a capitalist and liberal, is clearly not a socialist. Nor is Hillary (I married a Rhodes Scholar) Clinton. The Rhodes Scholarship program, as all good members of the party know, is a British-Racist-Imperialist tool for global imperialist domination, created by an aging British Empire to indoctrinate the global elite into thinking their way. Since the fall of the British Empire, it has served to spread "British" ways of thinking among young, ambitious, meritocratic, up and coming global leaders. Its sort of a grooming programing for future leaders in politics and academia.

True socialists wouldn't endorse the Rhodes Program.

While I oppose everything you and Gordon Osmond stand for, I have no problem smoking cigars and drinking Havana Rum with you both, while toasting the demise of decadent capitalism!

Viva Fidel!
Now, the more extreme Comrades of the Communist International, Stalinists all, have far more respect for Mr. Gordon Osmond, a Republican, than they do for members of the Democratic Party.

Republicans do not value open-mindedness, practice a traditional Bolshevik concept known as "democratic centralism," and they make it a pride of point to practice ideological purity. They also subscribe to a cult of gun violence, and worldwide military intervention, often through conspiratorial, cell-based infiltration and surreptitious means.

This is classic Bolshevism, albeit with the GOP, its done in the furtherance of Global Capitalism. The GOP has learned well from Bolshevism. Very well indeed.

If only they dropped their loyalty to global Capital, they would make a wonderful and highly disciplined cadre to our Party.