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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

C-PAC and Back To Conservative Principles

Category: GOP Politics
Posted: 02/28/09 15:35, Edited: 02/28/09 16:04

by Dave Mindeman

It's time for the annual liberal bashing of the Conservative Political Action Conference (C-PAC). Everyone who attends is expected to deliver on red meat conservative politics and they never disappoint. This year, the theme is about getting back to basic conservative principles -- it kind of a Conservatism 2.0, but it isn't much different from the 1.0 except they have jettisoned President G.W. Bush.

These people truly believe, in spite of two cycles of clear election defeats, that they represent the belief system for the majority of America.

They are convinced that they have the right principles -- they just haven't been applied "correctly" by the Republican Congress and President that held elected office over the past 10 to 14 years.

But do these principles work? Are they somehow timeless -- that they will work in any context? The best examination of that would be to look at the historical perspective..... because there is a track record for conservatives in America.

You hear then talk about these principles but what are the practical applications. Let's take a look at these "ideas".

1. Free Markets. The short discussion here is that truly "free" markets don't exist and never will. The conservative idea of a free market would be that businesses and individuals would create their own market for goods without government interference and without outside influences. Kind of like Ebay -- it began as a service where a commodity would be offered for sale to find its own market. If the suggested sale price doesn't find a buyer, it doesn't sell; if more than one buyer becomes interested, the value goes up by competitive bidding. But this "free" market begins to break down as fraud and manipulation poison the market and soon you have pages and pages of regulations and rules.

And so it is with global markets. Free markets don't really exist because people live under governing systems. These governing systems police the market but never with the same rules. Thus the market makes adjustments to find that level playing field. It is a persistent quest because the rules are constantly changing. Thus markets are never, ever "free" markets but more descriptively, "adjusted" markets. Governments apply tariffs... they provide subsidies for producers.... and they apply taxes to the profits. And none of this is done uniformly. These are circumstances that will not change unless the world unites under one government. Something conservatives also fear unless the United States would be the entity that would have that complete authority.

Over the past decade, globalization has been a kind of substitute for free markets. All countries are able to trade "freely" with each other and create their own markets. NAFTA and CAFTA were to be the models. Except one of the most important "adjustments" necessary for a competitive market was never accounted for -- cost of labor. Companies with repressive labor practices have been given unfettered access to global makets which distorted the meaning of truly free market strategies.

So, in summation, the conservative principle of "free markets" does not exist in the real world... only in the conservative lexicon.

2. Limited Government. Conservatives believe in this principle above all. But what exactly is it? I don't think any conservative really believes that eliminating government is an answer...although some are tempted. A lot of them combine limited government with a no tax policy, but they cannot be the same. The government is required to "provide for the national defense"....that costs money and some taxes are required because tanks and missiles don't offer much return on our investment. So the word "limited" is very appropriate. I guess a simple definition is that the government should only provide services that the free enterprise system cannot. Conservatives disagree on what consitutes the division of this breakdown but suffice it to say that Reagan summed it up for conservatives everywhere with his "government is the problem" depiction.

Some conservatives equate increasing taxes to expansion of government and thus they object vehemently to any tax increase... even if it is used for inflationary increases on existing programs. Government must "live within its means" which translates to constantly cutting back when revenues decline.

A perfect recent example of this was the California budget standoff. Under California law, a budget that requires an increase in taxes must have a 2/3rds majority in both legislatures before it can be signed into law. The California Senate was one Republican vote short of meeting that 2/3rds requirement. And the reason that the Republicans were balking was because of the tax increases included, even though the overall budget had billions of dollars in cuts as well. The budget deadline came calling and still no budget was passed. Republicans were willing to stand their ground even if it risked a government that would have had to do the following: 1) Layoff 20,000 employees, 2) Send out IOU's in lieu of checks for tax refunds, 3) Risk a drastic lowering of the state's bond rating which would have greatly increased interest rates for future bonding and cost the state additional billions into the future, and 4) Risk the state going bankrupt...a concept that nobody could fully conceptualize as to implementation.

Some conservatives have openly articulated a practice of "starving the government" into submission. That is why fighting every tax increase or government spending bill is so important to them. They want to take us to that California brink... they want a government that can't meet its obligations. They want school systems constantly underfunded. They are willing to accept a growing percentage of uninsured people in this country to keep government out of the health care system.

Maybe the principle would be understandable if there were any limits to it. They lump the needs of government spending with the excesses of government spending. Conservatives consider those ideas synonymous.

The part B of this principle is doing away with government regulations. Conservatives delight in pointing out the failures of a large bureacracy. Derisive of regulation regarding endangered species. Openly hostile to climate change principles. Mocking food labeling requirements. To the conservative, a government that interferes with business production is a government that needs to be booted out.

Yet, they refuse to correlate recent salmonella outbreaks, drug recalls, or illnesses striking factory workers to any relaxation in government oversight. Complaints about government spending seem disingenuous when the government cutbacks in oversight allowed outrageouse waste in Iraq War government contracts. And of course, the biggest outrage is the failure of government regulators to reign in greedy bank speculation that has frozen up our economy. Limited government has simply become bad government....and that is not a principle, it is a mistake.

3. Personal Responsibility. I don't think anybody argues with the concept that we all need to take personal repsonsibility for our own actions and how they affect others. But conservatives tend to equate personal responsibility issues where community responsibility caused the problem.

The biggest example of this is the welfare system. Whenver a budget issue becomes a problem, "welfare cheats" are brought out front and center. People on welfare have abandoned their own personal responsibility. They are wards of their government and bleed the rest of us dry. Except, in the majority of instances that is simply not true. One of the biggest reasons for personal bankruptcies is a family health emergency that has drained a family's resources. Sometimes health issues are a result of personal neglect, but more than likely, it is through no fault of their own. The complaints about welfare also center around generational patterns. Welfare repeats itself with succeeding generations. But what about foster kids who lose their parents and bounce around from home to home. They begin their productive lives way behind everyone else and their kids will probably inherit that disadvantage unless they are given some kind of intervention. We will always have poor families and they will always need help. There will always be a few that will take advantage of government help but abuses like this only apply to the margins.

But let's look at the other side of the issue. What about the bankers and Wall Street sharks whose greed took advantage of the vulnerable and the uninformed. Doesn't personal responsibility apply there as well? What about corporate execs who gambled their companies future on risky securities and cost thousands of people their jobs? The poor are not always poor because of something they did themselves and the rich are not always wealthy because they played by the rules.

Applying a principle too broadly makes it meaningless.

4. Family Values. This "principle" is sometimes a moving target, depending on the social mores at the time. Quite frankly, it is not a principle of governance and unfortuntely has morphed into a moral/governance hybrid. A dangerous one at that. The founding fathers were worried about two things with their new government. They were worried about government sanctioned religion and conversely with government interference in religion. That is why the idea of a full and complete separation of church and state has been part of our governing tradition since the nation was founded. The United States is a majority Christian nation but it is not exclusively a Christian nation. Our melting pot has accepted all faiths from all over the world and has guaranteed their right to practice their faith freely and without interference.

But the concept of Family Values within the conservative movement has twisted and distorted government actions to combine religion. Christian prayers at government functions are an unfair bias against the Muslim and Jewish faiths as well as other faiths. Yet, we do it routinely because there is this uncomfortable definition of values.

True conservatives have their own discomfort with this so-called "principle". And to their credit, many refuse to abide by it. It is artificial and not relevant to conservative thought. In reality, this "values" principle is purely a concoction of electoral politics. A means to usurp the "values" voter's myopic view of selecting candidates into the conservative tent.

If true conservative Constitutional principles were applied, then the gay marriage controversy would go away. After all, how can we, as a nation, sanction a religious sacrament like marriage without providing for a civil counterpart for those barred from the religious definitions. It violates religious separation principles and it violates equal protection. Pure Constituional principles violated by conservatives who revere the Constitution.

As you listen to the speakers at C-PAC, you will hear these principles articulated over and over. Religious references, laissez fair economic principles, and the founding fathers will be invoked time and again. These are speeches meant to please the audience in the hall -- but the rest of us will squirm in our chairs wondering if these "candidates" really mean to govern that way.

If Conservatism 2.0 makes no allowances for those voters who live and work outside of the C-PAC venue, then 2.0 will join 1.0 at that Dallas residence of the President who shall not be named.
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Time in the US Senate Race is Not Well Spent

Category: GOP Politics
Posted: 02/18/09 16:46

by Dave Mindeman

During political campaigns, you get used to the constant fund raising letters....the pleas for that next donation.

You get calls to support a candidate...calls for funds to work against a candidate.....money, money, money.

But in the Minnesota Senate race, we have moved into the Twilight Zone. Consider the latest fundraising tome from Cullen Sheehan with the Coleman campaign.

It starts with this...

Dear Friend,

As Norm continues his legal challenge to make sure that every vote is counted fairly, accurately and honestly, our support continues to grow.

Support is a funny word. The election ended 3 months ago. The voters have ended their part of the race. Support can't grow there.

No, Norm is looking for dead presidents. The green stuff.
They're looking for money that does little but keep Minnesota devoid of the representation it deserves.

There is something unseemly about it. It's not productive. It is supporting a negative. Norm's campaign wants your money so they can keep lawyers busy and Minnesota frustrated and wanting.

Sheehan's letter starts name-dropping:

As Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says, ?Anything you can do to help Norm financially to make sure that he can tell his story before the court is much appreciated.?

"Story" seems like the wrong word. Is Norm retelling an adventuresome tall tale? Well, I suppose you could correlate "story telling" to what his lawyers are attempting in regards to the Minnesota election system. In a way, it is the "greatest work of election fiction" ever told.

Norm is rapidly running out of viable arguments to overturn the recount result. But it will continue and the money will keep coming. Because the GOP Senators are using this as part of their strategic obstruction.

Norm can extend the trial; he can appeal the decision...and then appeal that one. Winning is becoming a fading objective. Now success is measured in delays....in amounts of time....

...time that is not well spent for Minnesota.

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US House GOP Holds "Victory" Retreat?

Category: GOP Politics
Posted: 01/31/09 14:45, Edited: 01/31/09 14:50

by Dave Mindeman

The US House minority GOP caucus had their retreat. And you would think they had just won the lottery. I guess they are convinced that their smaller group has the ability to unify in ways they haven't before. Since most of this group comes from hard core districts, they probably do have a lot in common. But can that bring them back to a House majority?

The election of Michael Steele as RNC chair was probably the better indication that they are coming back. Of all the candidates vying for the position, Steele can probably attract the broadest appeal.

And in a way, it was probably a good sign for Governor Pawlenty's national ambitions. Steele and Pawlenty are closer in broader goals than any of the other RNC candidates.

However, the message is still not changing much. Eric Cantor, the House minority whip, spoke about the recent stimulus vote:

?I know all of you are pumped about the vote the other day,? Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the party whip, told lawmakers Friday night, eliciting loud cheers from the roomful of Republicans. ?We?ll have more to come.?

Pumped up about a bill they lost by over 50 votes? Cheers that they all voted to do nothing? I guess victory is in the eye of the beholder.

Maybe I'm missing something, but being negative and obstructionist when the country desperately needs action seems like a wrong headed message to me.

And here's another puzzling symbolic gesture:

Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, the chairman of the Republican Conference whose office organized the three-day retreat, kicked off the final dinner with a clip of George C. Scott as Gen. Patton imploring his troops, ?We?re going to kick the hell out of (the enemy) all the time, and we?re going to go through him like crap through a goose.?

After the drubbing the House Republicans have taking in the last two election cycles, you have to wonder which side they think Scott/Patton is supposed to be referring to.

The voice of reason came from our own Governor Pawlenty, as an invited speaker:

He also warned Republicans away from the divisive politics and infighting that have plagued the party for years. ?We don?t have a big enough party to be throwing people overboard,? the conservative governor said.

Nice thought....but a little late.

I guess the most symbolic distortion of reality came from Cantor:

Cantor had all his deputies sign a magnum of wine to uncork when the GOP wins back the House.

Well, they say wine always gets better with age.
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