Friday, December 10, 2010

Maybe Progressives Should Organize GOP Voters

Two recent polls show that GOP congressmen are more conservative than GOP voters, with 47% of rank-and-file Republicans supporting the repeal of DADT, and 58% supporting raising taxes as part of a deficit reduction solution. Both of these positions have been filibustered by the Republican Senate Minority in the last week. To put it another way, only 3% of Senate Republicans support repealing DADT (thank you, Susan Collins) and none have stepped forward to support raising tax cuts on the super wealthy despite a number of proposals being floated around (including creating an additional tax bracket at $1 million) that would be substantial concessions from the Democratic position.

The Obama tax compromise sums up nicely the problem that American government is facing: Democrats conceded their basic principles of a fair tax cut in order to implement moderate goals like extending unemployment assistance and cutting payroll taxes. Essentially, the Republicans were not in a position to compromise because they do not have principles. They only have a desire to give welfare handouts to the wealthy. There are not two serious parties who could negotiate a fair outcome.

The death of the two party system (as long as we regard legislative sanity as the primary goal of the two party system) is partially a result of the Democratic party broadening its appeal to ideological moderates and conservatives in some districts, and also a reaction to that outreach from Republicans. Republicans sought to differentiate themselves in campaigns from conservative Democrats, and entrenched themselves in far-right nonsense land. The tea party is the logical outgrowth of the rhetoric that nothing Democrats do is good: since Democrats controlled government, nothing government does is good. Now we should see either a realignment among some Tea Party voters to a more anti-everybody position, or more likely, Fox News will take away their megaphone from those groups. This leaves us with a serious problem: Republicans will govern from the extreme fringes and in cases where they can't force concessions from Democrats in the Senate (Recall that Democrats in the Senate will be looking mostly to keep the economic growth going in their home states, not for ideological victories), more grandstanding and obstructionism.

Progressives have an opportunity to change this balance by pouring some effort into promoting liberal Republicans in primaries. Not to help Democrats win the general election, but to actually modernize and de-crazy-fy the Republican party. Republican voters will vote for people who want to actually solve our nation's problems, but Republican activists won't work for them. Top Republican strategists will also be focusing on the Presidential race, and activists may be overwhelmed at state legislature and Congressional levels by progressives organizing for moderate Republicans.

Electing moderate Republicans in open seats will encourage actual bipartisanship and will weaken the control of Boehner, Cantor, and Ryan on the GOP caucus. Republicans actually interested in improving the economy may be anathema to the Democratic branding of the GOP, but it's what this country needs in order to solve our problems. Progressives should consider post-partisan activism this cycle. Turnout will be high for the Republican Primaries, which will produce a more moderate primary electorate than in 2012. There may even be some opportunities to primary far-right Republicans if a strong moderate Republican Presidential candidate shows up. Convincing a Huckabee voter to oust an incumbent in favor of a moderate Republican will also be a lot easier than convincing the same voter to split their ticket in November. Progressives need to elect better Democrats, but better Democrats also need to be legislating with better Republicans.

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