Sunday, November 18, 2012

Looking head to 2016- and yes, at some point we have to

I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don't know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for... And you know that you fight for the lost causes harder than for any other. Yes, you even die for them.

--Jimmy Stewart, as Senator Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Actually it was Clarence Darrow who said that, but Sen. Smith was right about lost causes. So was Jesus. So were (are) the martyrs. So are people all over the world who have stood up against overwhelming odds for what is right even without the ghost of a chance, humanly speaking, of winning.

Being a Christian, in the last analysis, means staking everything on the notion that "lost" causes not only sometimes ultimately win, but that God tends to use them for His purposes- which aren't always ours.

I've already blogged about the reasons why the outcome of the 2012 election makes me profoundly pessimistic about the future of America. I'm afraid that our national (in fact, if the truth be told, worldwide) penchant for self-destructive and culturally destructive social change will not only continue, but be institutionalized. If Barack Obama gets to replace a couple of sitting conservative Supreme Court justices in his second term- maybe even one- you are going to be positively amazed at the things which will suddenly become "constitutional rights" in the next decade or so.

But he might not. And even if he does, we have to soldier on. The growing acceptance of same-sex "marriage" by the public probably can't be reversed, but that doesn't change our duty to fight it. The chances of Roe v. Wade being modified, much less repealed, are remote. But with regard to abortion, too, we still have to fight for what is right. The hypocrisy and self-serving "logic" of political leaders (and voters) who claim to accept the tenets of their churches but vote against them is probably not going to change. But it still needs to be named- and confronted.

Besides, while I might have briefly thought of throwing in the political towel, who am I kidding? Politics is in my veins. And anyway, as Clarence Darrow- and Jefferson Smith- once said, "Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for."

So what about 2016? I know. It's a long way off. But looking forward to the next battle is one proven strategy for taking the sting out of losing the last one.  And in America, it's only battles we wage every four years. The war- even if we ultimately lose it- resumes with the next campaign.

But it will be tough. The first problem is electoral lock. Simply stated, although conservatives are half of the country, the divide between red and blue states is so sharp and the allocation of electoral votes is such that it's difficult to find a path that gets Team Red to 270 electoral votes. There are paths that get there, but they're narrow, and have to be walked very carefully if there is going to be any prospect of success.

Which brings us to the next problem: the Republican hard-line on immigration has thoroughly alienated the fastest-growing ethnic population in the United States, and one we need to do well among in order to have any chance of getting to 270: Hispanic voters. I've argued for a long time that the natural home of Hispanics is actually in the Republican, rather than the Democratic, party. Hispanics tend to be culturally very conservative people, heavily invested in their families and much more religious than most Americans are these days. Contrary to the stereotype, they tend to be hard-working and ambitious people; without in any way justifying illegal immigration, even the people who immigrate illegally are basically looking for economic opportunties they don't have at home.

I think the key here is to realize that Hispanics are also much more reasonable when it comes to the legitimate concerns many Americans have with illegal immigration than most conservatives think. They tend to understand the national security issue, for example. They understand why Americans are sensitive about the number of Mexican and Honduran criminals who emigrate to the United States illegally. They are reasonable enough to be able to see that rewarding illegal behavior is, as a matter of principle, a bad policy. They simply want their countrymen to be able to work and shelter and feed their families, ambitions with which most other Americans can all too easily identify.

I might as well say this very clearly: I do not see the Republican party ever winning another presidential election unless it embraces some path to citizenship for at least some illegals already in this country. If this is combined with measures to strengthen security along the border, I don't think the Hispanic community would object in the slightest. Such defensive measures must, of course, be undertaken in any case. But in the meantime, a case can be made, for example, for providing a path to citizenship for illegals living in this country who serve in the armed forces, and for their families. Perhaps other kinds of service might be provided that will ensure a green card when it is concluded while demonstrating good citizenship of a caliber which would justify overlooking their mode of entry. It should be noted that such a demanding criterion- combined with a toughened stand against those who seek to avoid such service- would also have the secondary effect of encouraging those who might be positive contributors to American society while discouraging those who wouldn't. Probably the net effect would be an overall drop in illegal immigration while making the task of dealing with those who continue to defy the law more managable, as well as more politically practical. People who howl about a policy of automatic deportion would have far less ground to stand on if it only applied to illegal immigrants who refused to make a demanding but reasonable good-faith gesture to atone for their illegal entry.

Other ideas must be entertained that will balance our need for security and the plight of unemployed people in this country legally with the desperate plight which drives people to enter America illegally and the inevitability of the Hispanic population continuing to grow- both legally and, to some extent, illegally- in the future. Immigration reform which will provide economic and other incentives to move here legally rather than otherwise ought to be right up conservatives' ideological alley. The alternative is a perpetual Democratic presidency, and immigration reform of a nature much less to our liking.

We hear a chorus from the media about how what Republicans need to do to win is, in essence, to become Democrats. I reject the idea that Republicans should abandon their social or economic conservatism, or that the Republican party would deserve (or have any reason) to continue to exist if it did. But that conservatism needs to be articulated better than it has been in the past. Younger voters are not apt to be impressed, for example, with messages opposing same-sex "marriage" because it is contrary to Scripture; fewer of them have religious beliefs than ever before in our history, and the beliefs of those who do are apt to be unorthodox and tailored to their own personal comfort and influenced by an essentially pagan values-system. This provides a challenge of one kind for the Church; for social conservatives, it mandates something which should have happened long ago: opposition to self-and-society-damagingsocial change based on rational argument rather than quotations from the Bible. We do not oppose abortion and same-sex "marriage" simply because they are contrary to Scripture. We oppose them because they are bad public policy. We are losing- and quite probably have already lost- the culture war in large part because we have been trying to use religious arguments on an electorate which no longer shares our religion. If we are going to win, we are going to need bright, articulate and attractive young spokespersons who can speak to those we are trying to convince in their own language, using arguments whose weight has some possibility of impressing them. Similarly, as the deceptive and reductionistic arguments the Obama campaign brought against Gov. Romney's economic plans indicate, the electorate has to be educated about economics and attempts by the Democrats to confuse the issue and deceive the voters need to be promptly, overwhelmingly, and ruthlessly confronted. The Romney campaign did some of this early on; in my judgment, it made a major mistake in not doing more of it, and making the Obama campaign's dishonesty a major campaign issue.

Then, there's the problem that might be the most difficult to deal with of all: Republicans' own ideological inflexibility. There is no doubt that both parties have moved to the extremes in recent years, and more and more the very fact that either party supports a measure guarantees that the other will oppose it.

But politics is, as Lyndon Johnson was fond of saying, "the art of the possible." Instead of maintaining our ideological purity and getting nowhere, we have to re-learn the skill which has been the bread-and-butter of American government since the Revolution: compromise. There are a few positive signs. House Republicans, for example, appear to have adopted the position they should have held all along, and become willing to close tax loopholes for the wealthy while opposing increases in rates. Perhaps avoiding even that would be better for the economy, but a deal based on closing loopholes (and perhaps even small, temporary increases in certain tax rates, though I agree this needs to be avoided if possible) is certainly better than taking America off the "fiscal cliff" and into another recession!

The fact is that the American people want principled leaders, yes- but principled leaders who are willing to compromise and work together for the country's good. It is certainly true, as some will point out, that the Democrats will continue to act like spoiled children. But if we stop, while we might temporarily lose a few battles, we will make their inflexibility the issue. We can get the issue to work for us rather than against us, and ultimately win the war. But we cannot continue to make it possible for Democrats to plausibly call Republicans "the party of 'No.'"

Finally, there is the problem with the media. Jay Leno was quite accurate on the day before Halloween, when he suggested that kid wear a suit and tie, carry a notebook and a pen, put on an Obama button, and trick-or-treat as journalists. We are not going to win the media over.

But we can be more aggressive in meeting their bias head on. The panel shows on the networks tend to come in two kinds: those composed of three liberals, and those composed of three liberals and one conservative. We need to cry foul- loudly.

Never again should a Candy Crowley be allowed to confirm a false statement made by a Democrat running for president without being firmly called to account right then and there. Never again, on the other hand, should a Martha Radatz be allowed to let a Joe Biden lie at will for an entire evening (even about matters of such clear public record as his votes on the Iraq and Afghan wars) without being challenged. Nor should the kind of bad manners Biden exhibited in the vice-presidential debate be allowed to pass without being named for what they are. The tendency of the media to describe radicals as "progressives," liberals as "moderates," and conservatives as "right-wingers" needs to be challenged as the partisan spin that it is. We have just been on the receiving end of one of the dirtiest and most dishonest presidential campaigns in history. Never again!

Finally- and most seriously- in order to win in 2016 or in the future, Republicans have to become less extreme and less shrill not only about economic issues, but also about social issues. Yes, I know that the Democrats (although you'd never know it by listening to the media!) are just as extreme and just as shrill. And no, I am certainly not suggesting that the GOP retreat with regard to its principles. I'm just suggesting that it's better to win a partial victory now while continuing to fight for more than to get nowhere.

Example: the American people are not ready to abolish abortion. On the other hand (although the media have made sure that they don't realize it) they do oppose abortion for the reasons why the overwhelming majority of abortions are performed. Perhaps Mitt Romney's willingness to make exceptions for rape and incest can't be logically or philosophically justified. But if Romney's position were ever adopted, 98% of the abortions performed in this country would end. We have to seriously question whether it's really better to be logically consistent than to save 98% of abortion's victims, while continuing to work on convincing the public about the other two percent.

If we can restrict something we oppose instead of abolishing it, we should do so- while continuing to work toward the day when abolition becomes doable. Better that than valiantly standing our high moral ground- and letting the status quo continue. Doing that is not only better in the short term, but it will make further gains on the issue in the future easier. Flexibility and compromise in the short term is simply smart politics in the long term.

Who will our opponent be?

Like about half of America, I'm relieved that we won't have to deal with Barack Obama again. Nor will we be running against an incumbent in 2016. Will Rodgers once said, "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." Historically the Democrats have always had a pretty big self-destructive streak, and as the smoke clears from 2012 it's not unrealistic to hope that they exhibit it four years hence.

Towering over the Democratic field is our old nightmare, Hillary Clinton. She'll be 70 in 2016, and ever since the bitter disappointment of her defeat by the unheralded Barack Obama in 2008 has vowed that she would never run for president again.

I think she'll change her mind- and that she is potentially our most formidable opponent. Her favorability ratings, which once were a disaster, are high. Certainly her tenure as an inept Secretary of State whose ineptitude has been essentially excused and overlooked by the media adds an impressive page to her resume. Hillary seemed inevitable before the Iowa Caucuses in 2008, and she looks inevitable- if she decides to run (which I think she will)- in 2016.  I just don't think she can pass the chance up, even if she is a bit leary of slam-dunks after 2008.

Believe it or not, Joe Biden is thinking of running. Oh,please! Run, Joe! Run!

Martha Radatz let him get away with bloody murder in this year's vice-presidential debate, where he lied himself silly and pretty much made up his facts as he went along (he even claimed to have voted against both the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars, while in fact he voted for both of them). Naturally, the media let him get away with it scot-free.

He won't, as a candidate for president. As little as the media will like it, it will have to hold Biden to a higher standard next time- and he can't survive the scrutiny. If Hillary is the most formidable Democratic candidate for 2016, Joe Biden is the least formidable. Take it to the bank: he'll spend most of the early campaign with his foot in his mouth, and be out of the race by the end of May.

Other than Hillary, the guy I'm most afraid of is the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. The son of Mario- the author of the "Cuomo dodge." whereby a Catholic candidate claims to accept his church's teaching that abortion is murder, but says that while he's personally opposed to murder he wouldn't want to impose his views about it on anybody else- Cuomo is a dynamic and effective politician who led the successful drive to legalize same-sex "marriage" in New York state. He will have no more trouble finessing his religious obligation to work for the repeal of Roe (in view of his purported agreement with the Catholic church that abortion is an objective evil) than his dad or Joe Biden or John Kerry or Ted Kennedy did. Chances are he'll be smart enough not to go theologically gonzo on the subject like Nancy Pelosi, though.

Evan Bayh is handsome, moderate (whatever that means these days), and of an excellent bloodline. He's the son of former senator and presidential candidate Birch Bayh, and is extremely conciliatory toward Republicans, at least in rhetoric. In fact, Bayh left the Senate because of his disgust over gridlock and the current bitterness of our national partisan divide. He comes from a red state- Indiana- and has a kind of down-home appeal that would go over well here in Iowa. He seems genuine; frankly, I like the guy even though I could never imagine voting for him. A thoughtful man, in some ways he might be thought of as a white Barack Obama. Other than Hillary and Cuomo, I think he'd be the most formidable Democratic nominee in 2016. Unlike Hillary, though,  I don't think he'll run. He seems genuinely disgusted with the state of American politics these days.

Next in order of formidability is Tim Kaine, the newly-elected junior senator from Virginia who is also its former governor and a former chair of the DNC. He has a down-to-earth personality that would go over quite well in Iowa, for example. And he is very, very smart. He seems to lack the ego of Hillary or Cuomo, and that might well work to his advantage.

Martin O'Malley, the governor of Maryland, twice defeated a man I was sure would eventually be a Republican candidate for president, former Gov. Bob Ehrlich. Handsome and articulate, he comes across well on TV. O'Malley was "moved" by his state's approval of a referendum authorizing gay marriage and is suitably radical socially to win the nomination without coming across as threatening to moderates. He'd be tough.

Mark Warner, Virginia's senior senator and another former Virginia governor, has many of Bayh's strengths- and apparently a stronger stomach. He's an effective speaker and would be an equally effective candidate, but seems to me to be unlikely to match the appeal of Kaine. Further, he passed up an opportunity to run in 2008, and has said that he plans to seek no other office than the one he currently occupies.

Kathleen Sebelius is the former governor of a red state- Kansas- and currently President Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services. Combining approachability with gravitas, her main liability is that she isn't widely known. With so many other potential candidates who are, I can't see her breaking out of the pack. But if the convention deadlocks and the party turns to her as a compromise, she'd be formidable.

My guess is that the eventual nominee will be Hillary- if she runs. If not, I think it will be Cuomo. Either would be tough to beat- but not unbeatable.

So what about the side of the angels?

The Republicans pretty much always nominate "the next guy in line-" and in 2016 the next guy in line will be this year's vice-presidential nominee, Paul Ryan. In fact, barring a scandal or a case of late-onset agoraphobia, I'm fairly sure even now that Ryan will be the nominee.

He's smart, he's humble, he can be eloquent, and he comes across as approachable. Even Democrats like him personally. Ryan, also, will do well in Iowa. As the main standard-bearer in Congress for the Simpson-Bowles approach to deficit reduction, he would seem to be the man of the hour- especially if, as I expect, President Obama fails to come to terms with the deficit in his second term and even substantially increases it.

He comes from a blue state- Wisconsin- and has only one notable drawback: he's the guy who came up with the idea of vouchers as a substitute for the current Social Security system. Now, he's since modified his approach and only advocates vouchers as an option which seniors can voluntarily choose. But that was the Romney-Ryan position, too- and it didn't stop the Democrats from effectively lying about that fact and mispresenting the GOP position as favoring the replacement of the current system with vouchers.

The Democrats always try to scare old people- and it pretty much always works. It seems to me that the central fact about Ryan is that he has the liability of his main virtue. Anybody who is serious about deficit reduction is going to take a beating from the Democrats and other "Greeks" who are unwilling to cut entitlements in the face of economic realities, and while there are some indications that economic reality has made Social Security and Medicare less of a "third rail" than it once was, Americans are not notorious for their positive response to "take your medicine" responsibility in hard times.

Ryan will be a hard sell. He shouldn't be, but he will be. The Democrats and their allies in the media succeeded to some extent in painting him a an extremist this time out, and you ain't seen nothing yet.

Next in probablility after Ryan- and a long, long way back- is a guy whose only real liability is his last name. Jeb Bush retired as a popular governor of a state the GOP nearly has to carry to have a chance of winning the presidency. Known for years as "the smart Bush-" the one who should have been president- he'll probably make most lists of potential nominees until he eventually gives in and runs.

But I don't think it will be in 2016. I could be wrong, but I see 2020 as his year; until the nation is fully out of the economic doldrums, I don't fancy the chances of anybody named Bush being elected president again. Moreover, Jeb is smart enough to know that. I don't think he'll run. At the same time, if he does run and if I decide to go the Republican route in 2016 (a third party run by Jon Huntsman and, say, Joe Lieberman on a centrist ticket running on a platform of compromise and civility would really tempt me), Jeb might well be the guy I'd end up supporting, last name or not.

It's interesting that even while naming Ryan as the clear front-runner, the Des Moines Register's article last Sunday on potential 2016 candidates gives the biggest picture on the Republican page to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. While others have better credentials, it certainly will be hard to argue that Rubio doesn't have better bona fides than President Obama did when he was first elected; by 2016, he will be completing a full term in the Senate. Like Bush, he's from Florida. But his absence of a resume will be a tough obstacle for Rubio to overcome.

Women swoon over Rubio, and he's a passionate and articulate public speaker. He oozes charm. My gut feeling, though, is that he won't run- and if he does, that he won't get the nomination. His name isn't Ryan. He will be the GOP presidential nominee, but my strong hunch is that it won't be in 2016.

One big plus for Rubio is that he's Hispanic (though Cuban, not Mexican). He is more moderate than some Republicans on immigration, and could be the man to win back some of the standing for the party among the fastest-growing demographic group which George W. Bush managed to build, and immigration hard-liners have basically squandered. If the Republicans are ever going to win another presidential election, this simply is going to have to happen. Although he's never attempted to identify himself with it, he's perceived as a darling of the Tea Party. This would help him in the primaries and hurt him in the general election.

Chris Christie is the popular Republican governor of a deep red state- New Jersey- and has the brains, wit, and (frankly) psychological stability a president needs. He's apparently at peace with being overweight, something his superficial critics can't seem to leave alone. He hurt himself with the effusiveness of his praise for President Obama's handling of Superstorm Sandy. That probably will pass in time. He's a strong candidate for national office in the future, but I think the timing of his love-fest with POTUS probably dooms him for even the second spot in 2012.

Other than Jeb Bush, the potential Republican who at this point intrigues me the most is the governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez. She gave a great speech at the convention this year, and has strong conservative credentials. In several respects she'd be the ideal candidate for 2014, but it's not going to happen. Her name isn't Ryan, either- but just imagine what the Democrats would do if confronted with a capable, articulate, dynamic, conservative Mexican-American woman with credibility with the Hispanic community on immigration. They would have a cow, as Bart Simpson might say.

Her resume is thin, but she could turn around the party's plight in a single election. I've always believed that Hispanics- who are natural social conservatives and who, despite the stereotype, are in fact by and large hard-working and ambitious- are a better fit for the Republican party than for the Democrats. Immigration is the big obstacle, and the Republican party is going to have to take it on. It's a fantasy- but a pleasant one- to imagine the states which would suddenly be in play if they nominated an Hispanic woman.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is a guy I've had my eye on for years. Kasich ran for president briefly in 2000, while a member of Congress. A former commentator on Fox News, Kasich is articulate, bright, down-to-earth, and an effective debater. There is nobody I'd rather see on a stage with Hillary or Biden or Cuomo.

Will he run? When asked recently, he became testy and quoted Jesus to the effect that "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." His plate, he declared, was full enough right now being governor of Ohio.

That's not a "no." On the other hand, it is a rather refreshing attitude. And remember- he's the governor of the state that, even more than Florida, the Republicans would nearly have to win in order to get to 270 electoral votes. Along with Bush and Martinez, Kasich is on my personal short list.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is an alternative Ohioan with solid economic credentials and a solid record in both houses of Congress. An articulate and presidential-looking man, Portman was reportedly Mitt Romney's second choice for vice-president.  That he's a former presidential budget director is a plus for Portman; that he was George W. Bush's budget director is a minus, given the deficits Dubyah ran up.

Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia is from another "purple" state the GOP must have. He's term-limited- Virginia governors can't succeed themselves- and is probably looking for a new job. But he doesn't have the resume of some potential candidates- yet. And he's not Paul Ryan. A term in the Senate would do McDonnell's White House prospects a world of good.

Bobby Jindal is- of all things- the Indian (as in the sub-continent)- American governor of Louisiana- and a popular one, at that. The first word most people use to describe him is "smart," often in combination with the word "very." He has good relation s with Republicans in Iowa; he accompanied local social conservative activist Bob Vanderplatts in a statewide tour opposing the retention of pro-same-sex "marriage" state Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins.

On the negative side, Jindal can be dull- as well as dynamic- on the stump. And the Democrats would doubtless have a ball with the fact that, as a college student, he participated in the forcible dorm-room "exorcism" of a female classmate at Brown University. I have a bad feeling about the impact of that story on a future Jindal candidacy for national office.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is another Indian-American (rather than American Indian) governor of a southern state. Popular, effective, and very, very conservative, her endorsement of Mitt Romney was a critical moment in the latter's drive to the GOP nomination this time out. She has a bright future; my only question about her is whether she would prove saleable to the general electorate nationally.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire was on Mitt Romney's short-list to be his running-mate. A strong speaker and a dynamic former prosecutor, I would not be surprised to see Ayotte on the national Republican ticket in the near future. But not heading it, at least in 2016.

Richard Burr of   North Carolina and John Thune of South Dakota are two attractive and bright senators whose obscurity probably dooms them as presidential candidates. To digress, I enjoyed hearing Navy vet John McCain say of Thune the night before the 2008 Iowa Caucus  that "he's an ex-Marine- which means that his parents weren't married."

Rand Paul isn't quite as crazy as his dad, Ron- but almost. He'll almost certainly run, almost certainly prove a distraction (epecially in Iowa)- and has as much chance of being the nominee as I do.

In short, I expect it to be Clinton vs. Ryan. I'm not sure that Ryan is our best bet, though I would have no trouble enthusiastically supporting him (if I don't support Huntsman), and  it will be a tough race to win. But the GOP won't be running against a sitting president, and "Obama fatigue" will undoubtedly play a roll.

Republicans can beat Hillary- or any of the others- in 2016. But while Project Orca represents the wave of the future, the high-tech approach will either have to be fixed or abandoned until it's tested and clearly ready for prime-time. The GOP may simply have to construct a better traditional "ground game" than the Democrats- like they did in 2000 and 2004. One thing is certain: the Republican party dare never stake its presidential chances on an untried piece of technology again.

Notice that I said "they." Again, I'm not sure I'll be going the Republican route again in 2016. Participating in the Iowa Caucuses once again showed me how little I have in common with the extremists who dominate our party, especially in Iowa; the other party, of course, is just is bad.

Maybe the only thing that can arrest- or at least slow down- America's handbasket-ride to perdition is a third party committed to comity, civility, compromise, and a political culture worthy of grownups. while maintaining a committment to the values that have always characterized us as a people. And I have a strong hunch that Jon Huntsman is going to try to found one. It probably wouldn't win- but it could well effect the direction of the other two parties. And it would provide a chance for America's political grown-ups to at least represent, as they say.

When I moved a few months ago- well before the election- I re-registered as an Independent. We shall see what we shall see where 2016 is concerned. One thing, though, I can tell you right now: even if, humanly speaking, its outcome is already determined, there will be another battle.

The war goes on.

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