Thursday, March 31, 2005

Strange Bedfellows

The Washington Post this morning featured a Greg Schneider story about a very unlikely coalition of groups that has formed to push for initiatives promoting decreased gasoline consumption and increased use of alternative fuels in automobiles. Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and others have long backed such steps, of course but recently a number of other constituencies have entered the fray.

Set America Free is the umbrella organization created by this group, whose members include evangelical conservatives (Gary Bauer), former national security officials (James Woolsey, Robert McFarlane, James Gaffney) and Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) along with representatives from the NRDC and other environmental groups. Their immediate goal is a $12 billion initiative to cut oil use in half by 2025, through a combination of "manufacturer and consumer tax credits, as well as federal research funding," as Schneider writes.

Gaffney, a neo-con who pushed very heavily for the invasion of Iraq, told Schneider that after attending a conference on Saudi oil reserves last year he came to recognize the untenability of our current petroleum-use situation. Calling the matter a "national security emergency," Gaffney concluded that it just isn't good policy to be spending billions of dollars on Mideast oil. Better late than never!

Schneider's article cites several recent polls suggesting that recent high gas prices and the war in Iraq have "shaken Americans' faith in cheap, plentiful gasoline": a survey last week by Boston's Civil Society Institute revealed that 66% of those polled said it was "patriotic" to drive a car with higher fuel efficiency ratings, while 89% said the government should push for 40 miles per gallon standards from automakers.

The most heartening section of the Post article concerns the United Auto Workers, who have long opposed any moves toward increasing fuel efficiency standards. Now that sales of Toyota and Honda hybrid vehicles are skyrocketing, however, and the UAW has grown more worried about the loss of jobs to Japan than the slight cost increases involved with increasing fuel efficiency, they're coming around.

As with so many of the possible compromises that come up in one or two articles and then fade away, this one has the potential to go nowhere. But, with such a strange combination of proponents from all sides of the political spectrum, this coalition has that mix of unlikeliness and common sense that just might make it a winner. I will certainly keep my eye on it in the next few weeks and see what action materializes.


- To "Blog for Darfur": On Tuesday, the UN Security Council passed a US-drafted resolution banning "travel by individuals who are deemed guilty of offenses and freezes their assets. It also forbids the Sudanese government in Khartoum from conducting offensive military flights into Darfur and from sending military equipment there without first notifying the Security Council." The vote was 12-0, with China, Algeria, and Russia abstaining. A provision that would have banned Sudanese oil exports was pulled after the Chinese threatened a veto.

- To Bolton from the Blue: Steve Clemons now has a link to the full text of the letter signed by 59 former diplomats opposing Bolton's nomination. Maura Moynihan, daughter of late senator and UN ambassador Daniel Daniel Moynihan had an article Wednesday in Newsday taking on those who have tried to compare John Bolton with her father. Some operative phrases: "Moynihan sought to restore integrity to the UN, not to dismantle the institution created by the Allies after the defeat of Hitler and the Axis powers" and "Should Bolton become ambassador to the United Nations, I hope that he might study the words and teachings of his predecessor and consider the dangers of abandoning the laws and alliances that have sustained our nation so well for so long."

- To Grab Bag: Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) announced Wednesday that he will not challenge Senator Lincoln Chafee next year. Kennedy stated that he had decided he could better serve his constituents by remaining in the House. He has also been caring for his mother after she suffered an accident in Boston. So far this leaves only RI Secretary of State Matt Brown as a declared Democratic candidate against Chafee.

- To The Three-Ring Schiavo Circus: Yet another circuit court decision - yet another defeat for Ms. Schiavo's parents. This ruling by the 11th Circuit was remarkable for some of the language: in a majority opinion as one of the nine judges voting to deny the parents' petition, Stanley F. Birch Jr. took some pretty good shots at Congress and President Bush for getting involved. "Despite sincere and altruistic motivations, the legislative and executive branches of our government have acted in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers' blueprint for the governance of a free people — our Constitution," Birch wrote, charging that the recent law passed by Congress violates at least four different separation of powers principles and is therefore unconstitutional.

- To Advice from 'Across the Pond': People for the American Way on Wednesday released a new television advertisement featuring Jimmy Stewart in his role as "Mr. Smith" from the classic political movie. The ad is being targeted at seven Republican senators currently pegged as 'undecided' on the nuclear option: Warner, Lugar, McCain, Hagel, Sununu, Smith, and Collins. Along with Jefferson Smith, it also features Ted Norini, a self-described Republican urging the protection of the filibuster. The ad has already gotten a bit of press from MSNBC, CBS, and other outlets. The nuclear option may be deployed as early as next week, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Danforth's Dose of Sanity

In case you missed it, John Danforth had a tremendous op-ed in the New York Times this morning. Titled "In the Name of Politics," the brief essay offers an important criticism of today's Republican party, one which I have been trying to make (not nearly as eloquently) for a long time.

"By a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians," Danforth writes, giving as examples GOP support for an unprecedented constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposition to most forms of stem cell research, and the recent "extraordinary effort to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube." These initiatives, which Danforth correctly deems departures from Republican principles, "can rightfully be interpreted as yielding to the pressure of religious power blocs." And this is from a man who's an ordained Episcopal minister!

Danforth makes an important point in recognizing that blame does not lie with religious conservatives who choose to be politically active. That is their right, just as it is the right of all Americans - while you or I may disagree with those views, conservatives certainly have every right to express them. The problem is instead "with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement." In a nutshell: the current Republican Party leaders have allowed the principles of Protestant evangelicals to preempt the fundamental tenets of Republican philosophy.

One of Danforth's best quips comes in the penultimate paragraph of his column: "As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around." There's no 'seems' about it, but you get the drift.

Danforth is just the kind of person who needs to be out in front saying things like this. A senator from Missouri for 18 years, he was most recently Ambassador to the UN - his unfortunate decision to resign is what resulted in the nomination of John Bolton as his replacement. His credentials as a Republican leader are unassailable, and maybe his criticisms will actually get through to those who don't already feel the same.

A Junkie's Favorite ... New Presidential Vote Analysis!

On Friday, Polidata (the political data analysis firm with possibly the worst website I've ever seen for an organization trying to pass itself off as reputable) released its numbers on November's presidential race by congressional district. Why has it taken nearly five months for this study, you ask? Well, at least in most states, presidential election returns are reported by county, and since most congressional districts make up more than one county, tabulating the c.d. results are slightly tricky and require more detailed number-crunching than the usual media folks are up for (once there's a concession speech, the little white-boards and cool light-up maps that we see every four years get shoved back into the closet until the next time around).

So the Polidata folks do the real math, and then turn it over to the talking heads (and the bloggers too this time around) to yammer about for a while. The Washington Post assigned Dan Balz to the story, and his result appeared on Tuesday, headlined "Partisan Polarization Intensified in 2004 Election." Charlie Cook devoted his weekly column to the new data as well. The finding that most intrigued Balz and Cook is that 2004 saw fewer congressional districts splitting their votes (going for a presidential candidate of one party and a House candidate from the other). Only 59 of 435 congressional districts (13.6%) fit this description, with 41 of those going to Bush and 18 going to Kerry.

This finding is notable because of the significant drop in "split-ticket districts". Four years ago, 86 districts went in opposite directions (40 for Gore, 46 for Bush). In 1996 and 1992 more than a hundred districts fit the bill each time, as Balz notes and Polidata's analysis bears out. Balz attributes the trend away from ticket-splitting to a) redistricting trends, which make congressional districts safer for a given party and therefore less likely to vote for the opposing presidential candidate, and b) increasingly polarized and regionally homogeneous political parties, in which the vast majority of those registered as Republicans will vote Republican across the board and ditto for Democrats. [I'm definitely an exception to this one: since I've been able to vote, I've never voted straight party-line for federal candidates ... and probably never will at the rate the GOP is going at picking presidential nominees.]

Reason b) above is borne out by Charlie Cook's analysis of the congressional districts that went most heavily for Bush but also for Democratic House candidates, and those that went most heavily for Kerry but also for Republican House candidates: of the ten Democratic reps in the heaviest Bush districts, seven are in the South; of the ten Republican reps in the heaviest Kerry districts, five are in the Northeast, four are in the Midwest.

Neither Balz nor Cook include the Senate in their analyses: by my quick calculations, of the 34 races in November, only six (AR, CO, IN, NH, NV, PA), translating to 17.6%, featured split tickets. That was slightly more evenly split, with two races going to Kerry and a Republican Senate candidate (NH, PA) and the other four to Bush and a Democratic Senate candidate. Redistricting certainly plays no role here, but population shifts may.

The tradition of ticket-splitting, most common of late in New England states which have tended to elect Republican governors, is a loss that should be much lamented by moderates of all stripes. The decrease in competitive House district is also bad news for moderates, who tend to fare better in such districts than when put up against more ideological members of their own party in a contest where the primary is the de facto general election. Continued trends in this direction may in fact spell the end for moderates in both parties, as Southern Democrats and Northeastern/Midwestern Republicans grow even more endangered and out of step with their national parties.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

"Blog for Darfur"

The Bull Moose might be on to something. In his post this morning, he suggests a "Blog for Darfur" day, "when the entire blogosphere calls for world intervention to stop the killing". We've heard about bloggers making a difference (the tired example of Trent Lott's ouster as Majority Leader comes to mind), and this seems like an excellent place to start.

Like the Bull Moose and others, I'm sick and tired of the network and cable media devoting 85% of their time to Terri Schiavo and Michael Jackson, with the other 15% divided between Bush's latest Bamboozepalooza whistlestop to tout his Social Security 'plans' and whatever health ailment / new miracle diet is the discussion piece du jour. I literally cannot remember the last time I saw a television news report about the ongoing tragedy in Darfur (and I watch a reasonably significant amount of news).

The print media has been somewhat more active ... but not much. A Lexis-Nexis search this morning reveals seven New York Times articles in March with 'Darfur' as a lead term, and eleven in the Washington Post, four of which appeared in that paper's "News in Brief" section. One, an editorial from Easter Sunday, is particularly current and timely. Only one piece, an excellent op-ed by actor Don Cheadle and John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, has appeared in USA Today since the beginning of March.

Nicholas Kristof over at the Times has been active, with several columns appearing recently, including "The Secret Genocide Archive," which appeared on February 23. This column included a number of photographs gathered in Darfur by monitors employed by the African Union, of which there are apparently thousands. The few included were given to Kristof, he wrote, "by someone who believes that Americans will be stirred if they can see the consequences of their complacency." The photographs can be viewed here. Kristof writes at the end of his column "I'm sorry for inflicting these horrific photos on you. But the real obscenity isn't printing pictures of dead babies -- it's our passivity, which allows these people to be slaughtered." I'm sorry that I felt the need to link you to the pictures as well, but I'm sorrier still that those pictures even exist.

The State Department has called what's happening in Darfur genocide. The US has provided medical and food aid to refugees, but humanitarian convoys have recently been attacked, by the government-backed janjaweed militias, and aid workers are rarely able to venture outside protected zones. Our diplomats have drafted resolutions in the Security Council that have gone nowhere in the face of French and Chinese opposition. But where is American leadership on this issue? Why can our president interrupt his vacation, why can our Congress convene in the dark of night, to debate the fate of a single woman, when hundreds of thousands are dying in Darfur?

Where is the outrage? We said "never again" after Rwanda ten years ago, and yet here we are, glued to our Martha Stewart coverage, obsessing about the fates of fading pop stars and why we have to pay $2.25 a gallon for gas. When is enough enough? How many have to die before we act?

Look at the pictures. Read those editorials. Think about what matters. I know what I'd rather focus on. Do you? To all those folks outside Terri Schiavo's hospice I say this: If you have the time and the energy to spend your days protesting, put it to use. Get ye to Washington, and protest what's happening in Darfur. To the rest of us, let's not sit on our hands anymore. Former Senator Paul Simon said that if every member of Congress had received 100 letters calling for action in Rwanda, something would have been done. It's too late for the 350,000 who have already been killed, but there are millions more who would benefit from any effort at all on our parts.

If you have a blog, join "Blog for Darfur," and post about this issue as well. Let's see just how much we can do when we are united for a common cause.

For further reading/viewing:
- and have much information and good news digests on this issue.
- Mark Fiore recently did a very excellent animation on the concept of "never again ... again".

Monday, March 28, 2005

Bolton from the Blue

As you probably know, President Bush (following his odd penchant for mistaking 'fire' with 'promote'), recently nominated John Bolton to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton is currently Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, but the new Secretary of State (another appointment made under Bush's twisted promotion policy) apparently didn't really want him around Foggy Bottom anymore, so they decided why not, let's send him to the UN?

I have resisted blogging about Bolton until now, but since Congress is out of session and all seems fairly quiet news-wise - at least in the political realm - I thought I'd spend a bit of time on it tonight. Of course the fact that I'm still completely mind-boggled about how Bush could even think this was a good idea has kept me from even trying to explain it ... I've decided now I'll just not bother with that. Immediately after his trip to Europe to 'smooth things over' and reiterate American support for international cooperation, Bush comes home and nominates a man to be one of our most important diplomats who has publicly stated "The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference," and suggested that the Security Council should have only one member, the United States.

While in his position at State, Bolton was responsible for pushing the mythical connection between Iraq and Nigerian yellowcake, and made no particularly good progress in negotiations with North Korea or Iran over their rather more palpable nuclear programs (in fact the opposite could probably be argued). I can think of very little in the way of arms control or anti-proliferation issues that actually went well during the first Bush term, with the possible exception of Libya renouncing its WMD programs.

Following the nomination, there was much discussion over whether even some Republicans in the Senate might depart from the party line on this one. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was slow in expressing support for the Bolton nomination, as were Chuck Hagel and a few others. All those on the Committee appear now to be ready to vote to confirm Bolton and send his nomination to the Senate floor. Those include Chafee of Rhode Island, who said recently that he has received assurances that Bolton will behave himself up in New York.

At least a couple Republicans, as well as most of the Democrats, seem likely to remain opposed to the nomination until the end, however. New Mexico's Pete Domenici has never been particularly supportive of Bolton, and took the unusual step of blaming him by name for failing to act more strenuously against proliferation issues during a hearing last summer. The confirmation hearings before the Foreign Relations Committee promise to be very interesting: those are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on April 7. For a few moderate Republicans, (Snowe, Collins, Domenici, possibly Chafee) those will probably be the deciding factor. I will certainly be paying close attention as well.

For further reading:
- Steve Clemons over at The Washington Note has been very active on this issue, blogging quite often on Bolton's incompatibility with the position for which he's been nominated. He provides many useful links and more background than I have as well.
- Stop Bolton is out to do just that, and includes a video clip of Bolton saying some of his most outrageous things about the UN.
- Just today, 59 former diplomats from previous administrations wrote a letter urging the Senate to reject Bolton's nomination, calling him "the wrong man for this position", and saying that Bolton cannot be "an effective promoter of the U.S. national interest at the U.N."

Saturday, March 26, 2005

A Bit of (Cautious) Optimism?

Judging from a couple of stories over the past two mornings, there may be a compromise in the works that will end in the relaxation of current restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. The Washington Post broke the story Friday, and the New York Times plays catch-up this morning. The reason for the parenthetical caution in the title of this post is the slight but clear difference in the articles' headlines: "House Leaders Agree to Vote on Relaxing Stem Cell Limits" yesterday; "Republicans Discuss Vote on Stem Cell Policy" today.

The backstory: Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware, a well-known House moderate and proponent of loosening rules on federal funding for stem cell research, has introduced for the second year in a row the "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act", along with Democrat Diana DeGette. The bill already has 183 cosponsors in the House, and would likely pass the chamber by a wide margin if brought to a vote. Last year, in typical fashion, the House leadership refused to hold committee hearings or a vote on the legislation (as per Speaker Hastert's ridiculous quasi-rule that only bills that garner near-unanimous - i.e. everyone but the moderates - support from Republican members will come to the floor).

The Post article, by Rick Weiss, reveals that after Castle and others pled their case last week before Hastert, DeLay and Whips Roy Blunt and Eric Cantor, the leadership "concluded we should move forward in some way," Castle is quoted as saying. Aides to Blunt and other leaders, however, made clear that the deal with Castle to have a vote this year on some form of stem cell legislation did not mean that they would necessarily bring Castle's bill as such to the floor. This is the point of today's Times article, which states that important caveat more clearly.

Even assuming that House leaders have negotiated with Castle in good faith (as assumption I'm not sure anyone should be willing to make) and Castle's bill does pass in the House, its future is uncertain. The votes for a similar measure are almost certainly there in the Senate, but there are no guarantees that Frist & Co. would allow a vote to proceed there this year.

And then there's the fellow at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, whose spokesmonkeys responded to questions about this legislation by saying that Bush opposes the Castle bill. Would he wield the veto pen for the first time in his presidency should moderates gain a Congressional victory?

I wouldn't bet against it. He can't run for reelection, and has therefore little reason to continue pandering to those who oppose minimal relaxation of federal limits on stem cell research (Castle's bill would simply allow work on stem cells from "leftover embryos created in efforts at conception and destined to be discared", according to the Times). And yet the kowtowing goes on.

So, while the 'agreement' between Castle and House leaders offers up at least a glimmer of hope that compromise may pull through, let's just say I'll believe it when I see it.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Satire Selection

Because it's Friday, some humorous features from the past couple days:


- Wonkette's Greg Beato on "potentially viable chickens"

- Drive Democracy's "Diagnose Me, Dr. Frist". I do pity those hapless staffers though, all the spam they must have been getting already will be nothing compared to what their inboxes probably look like today.

- The Onion's exclusive on one of the reasons why Bush's head has gotten so big lately.

- Howard Dean Quixote, the Man of Vermonta, sings "The Impossible Dean". From the incomparable Capitol Steps [RealPlayer format].

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Slate's Obituary to Senate Moderates

This afternoon in Slate's semi-regular "assessment" column, Michael Crowley of The New Republic writes what amounts to a death notice for Republican moderates in the Senate. Calling Senators Chafee, Snowe, Collins and McCain the "Not-so-Fantastic Four," Crowley lays out a fairly convincing (and depressing) argument that following the elections last November, the moderates have lost much of their cachet, as well as their effectiveness.

Prior to the GOP's acquisition of a 55-45 majority in the Senate with this session of Congress, the "fearless foursome" could almost be counted on to serve as a centrist foil to the rightward lurches of the Party: Crowley cites their votes with the Democratic majority to include 'pay-as-you-go' in last year's budget bill, keep oil companies out of ANWR, and pass the 9/11 commission's proposed intelligence reforms. Now, however, the Republican leadership can afford to let the moderates slip away and vote with the Democratic minority (as they did last week on pay-go and ANWR). This greatly decreases the clout of the moderates in shaping legislation and keeping the party from stumbling rightward.

As I have discussed, the nuclear option would be bad for the Senate as a whole, and Republicans in particular (long term); Crowley adds another dimension, by noting that the nuclear option is "an affront to everything the moderates have tried to promote: bipartisanship, compromise, and a check on the right wing's excesses." A loss on this will prove the "ultimate defeat" to the moderates, he suggests. He's probably right. Thankfully, more than a few Republicans not normally thought of as moderate have expressed concerns about the risky maneuver, and there is still hope (at least for the moment) that cooler heads will prevail. When the time comes, however, the moderates will need to know they've got the country behind them. There can be no more shrinking back, but only charging forward.

Bad News for Pataki

New York's Governor George Pataki is having a bad week. Budget negotiations with the legislature are going poorly for him, as they have tended to do in recent years, and the chances of a budget being passed on time this year (April 1) are diminishing by the day. And a new poll out from John Zogby yesterday reveals that Pataki's chances for political advancement are looking even less rosy.

If next year's gubernatorial election were held today, Zogby reports, Pataki would lose to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer by 18 percentage points: Spitzer garnered the support of 49% of those surveyed to Pataki's 31%. Zogby shows Pataki trailing Spitzer in every region of the state, and in every demographic group except those earning above $75,000 annually (and even with those folks Pataki claims only a 1% lead). Just 19% say Pataki deserves reelection,

Perhaps the worst news of all for the governor is that 23% of Republicans said they'll vote for Spitzer next fall (and only 34% think that he deserves a fourth term). Had the Zogby pollsters called, I would have placed myself in that camp. Pataki has been, for the most part, a disappointment. He has failed to use his clout as a moderate within the party to advance centrist principles, and has been an ineffective advocate for New York with the Bush Administration and national Republican leaders in Congress. Might as well have a Democrat who'll do something than a Republican who doesn't.

The time has come for Governor Pataki to end his gubernatorial career: he should announce, and soon, that he will not seek reelection in 2006. Such a move would allow him to finish his current term out from under the specter of political posturing, and also gives the state Republican party time to find and field another, more appropriate candidate to run against Spitzer next year. Of course, rumblings continue to circulate of a Pataki presidential bid in 2008, and vacating the governor's chair would give Pataki a chance to lay the groundwork for that campaign. Let's just hope if he does start running in the White House derby, Pataki remembers he's a moderate.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Grab Bag

Some little observations from the day (tending toward a theme):

- A couple great quotes from Chris Shays, Republican congressman from Connecticut (and one of five who voted against the Schiavo bill early Monday morning). From his floor statement on the legislation: "Sanctity of life, sanctity of marriage, sanctity of an individual to decide for themselves what should happen to their own life, I find myself wondering why is there so much focus on this life when we ignore the countless lives throughout the world who die minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day from hunger and disease that this Congress could address and this Congress could prevent? Why only Terri when there are others like her in our country?"

And from the excellent Adam Nagourney piece in today's Times about how the weekend's Congressional action has divided Republicans in and out of government, "My party is demonstrating that they are for states' rights unless they don't like what states are doing. This couldn't be a more classic case of a state responsibility. This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy. There are going to be repercussions from this vote. There are a number of people who feel that the government is getting involved in their personal lives in a way that scares them." [emphasis mine] I couldn't agree more. Chris Shays is the kind of Republican who should be leading the party, not standing practically alone for its core principles.

- If you're a "West Wing" fan, you know by now that a moderate Republican (Sen. Arnold Vinick from CA) is going to be the GOP candidate in the upcoming campaign [fictional, sadly]. Vinick, played by the excellently-cast Alan Alda, was the main character in tonight's episode, which centered around the question of how he would deal with his pro-choice position on abortion and his lack of recent and regular church attendance. He was urged by a strategist to "stop using politics to divide this country", to "show us how much we agree, not how much we disagree" on issues like abortion. This is something that moderate candidates have been trying to do for years, and the position has even been expressed recently by Senator Clinton. It is good advice for any candidate out to secure moderate votes from across party lines, fictional or no.

Of course Vinick isn't going to get off easily. He feels he has to "try to unite the party" by finding a pro-life running mate. The first possibility, a former opponent and Falwell-esque demagogue, tells Vinick there's no way he could join a ticket with a pro-choice candidate, and then urges Vinick to come to his church and "pray with him." That opens the next can of worms, in which the presumptive nominee comes under fire from the media for not going to church. At the end of the show, in a very powerful statement to the press, Vinick offers up an excellent quote: "If you demand expressions of religious faith from politicians, you're just begging them to lie to you." He declines the invitation to his former rival's church, saying that it would be an act of "political phonyism," and says that over the course of the campaign, he'll be happy to take any questions about government, "but if you want answers about religion, go to church."

Sure is too bad he's fictional.

- Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) announced today that he will not run against moderate Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee next year. Chafee, the son of former senator John Chafee, will try for a second full term next fall. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, the son of Sen. Ted Kennedy, will now face intense pressure from Democrats in Rhode Island and Washington to make the race; Kennedy said he's not yet decided. The loss of Chafee would be a tremendous blow to moderate Republicanism nationwide, as he often provides crucial votes on important issues (as he did earlier this month on Bush's poorly-named 'Clear Skies' initiative).

Democrats would be much better off focusing their energies on Pennsylvania's Senate race, where state treasurer Bob Casey Jr. has a real shot in his race against ultra-conservative Rick Santorum. Casey is more conservative than national Democrats, just as Chafee is more liberal than national Republicans, and his victory would provide another centrist vote in the Senate (much needed these days). New RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman has said that keeping Santorum in the Senate is the Republican Party's number one priority for the '06 elections. I say, let's keep Chafee instead.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Three-Ring Schiavo Circus

I hardly even know where to begin with this. I don't want to rehash all the intricacies of the fifteen-year legal battle (the BBC has a good timeline), but I do want to comment briefly on the intrusion of Congress and President Bush into this tragic family disagreement.

From the beginning I didn't really think that all the bloviating rising from D.C. over the weekend was particularly sincere ... and then all doubts were removed when I read in the Washington Post on Sunday morning about this memo from a Republican Senate staffer to all GOP senators. Calling the case "a great political issue" and noting that "the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue," the memo might as well have said outright "We're going to take advantage of those who really care about this issue by talking about it and getting them to vote for us next fall."

The blatant insincerity and obvious pandering of it all didn't stop the shameless members of the House and Senate though. The Senate 'convened' at 2 p.m. Sunday with three members in the chamber: Frist, Santorum, and Martinez. Frist made a brief statement, and then proceeded to pass the Schiavo legislation by unanimous consent (i.e. no one stood up to oppose the bill's passage, so through it sailed). Not one senator stood up and demanded that the chamber have a debate on the merits or appropriateness of the legislation. In the House, a few Democrat members did object, and forced the leadership of that chamber to have three hours of debate on the matter (which largely consisted of supporters of the measure bemoaning the fact that every minute they 'wasted' on debating was killing Ms. Schiavo).

In the end, of course, the bill passed the House at 12:42 a.m. Monday morning. Forty-seven Democrats joined 156 Republicans in voting yes, and only five Republicans joined fifty-three Democrats in opposing the bill. Those fifty-eight representatives deserve our thanks and our praise, for standing up against the juggernaut and opposing what I fear will go down in history as an enormously unwise maneuver. Of course even after the bill passed Congress there was hope that cooler heads would prevail ... but that hope would have required a more circumspect occupant of the White House than we currently find ourselves burdened with. At 1:11 a.m., the president of the United States, having returned early from his weekend vacation (something even the devastating tsunami couldn't prod him to do, as Jon Stewart pointed out aptly on Monday's "The Daily Show,") was awakened and came out into the hallway of the White House residence to sign the hot-off-the-presses bill "For the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo."

Regardless of the outcome now (the first federal ruling this morning was that the feeding tube can stay out, and it's unlikely that this will be overturned on appeal at either the circuit court or Supreme Court level), Congress and the president have set a very dangerous precedent in taking this precipitous and unnecessary action. As the New York Times editorial said this morning, this "new law tramples on the principle that this is a 'nation of laws, not of men,' and it guts the power of the states." Taken together with the moves toward the 'nuclear option' (see my post from yesterday), "President Bush and his Congressional allies have begun to enunciate a new principle: the rules of government are worth respecting only if they produce the result we want [emphasis mine]. It may be a formula for short-term political success, but it is no way to preserve and protect a great republic." I couldn't agree more, and I think it goes far beyond these two issues (that is another post for another day). The entire editorial is quite well done and I urge you to read it if if you haven't already.

Republicans seem to be hopeful that they'll be able to capitalize on this issue in next fall's elections, and in fact they may be able to do just that, by lulling those who vote on issues such as this to think that the "culture of life" really matters to those prattling legislators who pontificate so loudly about it.

Thankfully, the American people seem to be disinclined to agree with Congress on this one, with a new ABC News poll showing large majorities saying that Congress' actions were "inappropriate" (70%) and "politically motivated"(67%) and supporting the removal of Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube (63%). It's a tragedy, for sure, but it's a family tragedy, which is being replicated all around the country every day without the same level of interest and media frenzy that this case has attracted. Is Congress now going to start handling each of those cases too as soon as Randall Terry shows up with his minions and starts demanding action? I don't know about you, but I can think of a few thousand other problems I'd rather have my elected representatives and my president spending their time debating and finding solutions for.

For further reading:
-The Bull Moose and Slate's Dahlia Lithwick also have interesting things to say about this case and the ridiculousness and hypocrisy of Congress' involvement in it.
-More editorials against Congressional action from the Washington Post, Boston Herald.
-An interesting little piece from Media Matters (via Talking Points Memo) about how CNN was playing some interesting games with a bit of polling data).

[Correction] I learned this morning that Senator John Warner of Virginia was also on the Senate floor Sunday afternoon when that chamber passed "Terri's Law", and that he stated his opposition during the voice vote. In a well-done piece by Adam Nagourney in today's Times, Warner says: "This senator has learned from many years you've got to separate your own emotions from the duty to support the Constitution of this country. These are fundamental principles of federalism." March 23, 8:30 a.m.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Trouble with Moderation

Here's the simple reason why there are so few successful moderates (if that isn't an oxymoron). It takes us too long to say things. Ideologues on either side are able to state their positions in handy-dandy little sound-bites (viz. Dean or Bush on the Iraq War), while moderates often actually try to at least consider both sides of an issue before we take a position. Sometimes, shock of shocks, we even try to explain our positions in more than a half-sentence.

This is what got Kerry into ten tons of trouble during the last campaign. He made the mistake of trying to explain the intricacies of his positions - on Iraq and other things - and the Bush crowd was able to pick out obnoxiously out-of-context little quotes ("I actually did vote for the 87 billion ... before I voted against it" and so on) and use them to great advantage. It's a great deal easier to win when you're the one who gets to take things out of context and not the one who has to then spend days trying to put them back in.

Why do you rarely see moderates (of either party) on the Sunday talk shows, and even more rarely on the sets of such fine programs as "Crossfire" [stop hurting America], Bill O'Reilly, or "Hardball"? Because moderates tend not to provide those nasty little zingers that get whipped around so freely by the Pat Buchanans and Al Sharptons of the world. And it is those zingers, sad to say, that people like to watch.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about the convergence between 'news' and entertainment in the future, but this is one area where it's become quite obvious in recent years. Moderates have found themselves largely excluded from political dialogue as brokered by the media, mainly because they haven't been able to find a way to become as effective at getting out their message as those on the extreme left and right. I'm clearly guilty of this as well. The problem is, I don't think it's a bad thing. Sound-bites aren't good. Just because we've become acclimated to "headline news" and on-demand ... well just about everything ... doesn't mean we shouldn't stop and listen sometimes and really take the time to understand the complexities of a given issue. Congress would certainly get away with a whole lot less that way.

Advice from 'Across the Pond'

Today's New York Times features an op-ed from Iain Duncan Smith, who used to be the leader of the Conservative (aka Tory) Party in England. The Conservatives currently are the minority in Parliament, so they're in the same boat as the Democrats in our Congress. Duncan Smith gives some excellent advice to the Republicans in the Senate by offering an example from English political history that could repeat itself in just a few weeks here in America.

It looks increasingly possible that when Congress comes back from its Easter break, the Senate Republican leadership (Frist, Santorum & Co.) will attempt to bring one of Bush's contested judicial nominees up for a confirmation vote. In the past, Democrats have deployed the filibuster to keep these nominees (only ten of them, and all completely either unqualified or ridiculously inappropriate) from being confirmed. This is a completely legitimate delaying tactic, and even was used by Republicans in the Senate to block the nomination of Abe Fortas to the chief justice's chair in 1968 (today's Republicans seem to have forgotten that, probably because the nomination ended up derailing itself over other issues). But this time, Frist & Co. have said, if the Democrats try to filibuster, a point of order will be lodged against the attempt, and Vice President Cheney would make a ruling from the chair that filibusters of judicial nominees is in fact unconstitutional. There would then be a vote on that ruling, but it would take only 51 yes votes to uphold Cheney, and thereby end any further filibusters on judicial nominees (including future nominees to the Supreme Court).

Some question remains over whether Frist has 51 votes in favor of upholding Cheney's ruling, should it be made. Several Republicans, including Hagel and McCain (just yesterday on ABC's "This Week") have expressed reluctance to implement the so-called "nuclear option" and end judicial filibusters, giving various reasons for their reticence. Mostly these center around the likelihood that Democrats will completely shut down the Senate, which they absolutely have the capability of doing. The Senate generally operates under 'unanimous consent requests', meaning that everyone agrees to set times for debate, not to have the clerk read through every single bill/amendment/technical detail line by line, and so forth. If the Democrats wanted to, they could object to every single unanimous consent request, and force the Senate to a quick and immediate standstill. Now, I have some serious doubts about whether the current crop of Democrats would actually do that, since they seem to have a standard operating procedure of rolling over and playing dead instead of standing up and fighting when it comes right down to it, but they could really make things difficult for Frist & Co. to accomplish literally anything at all.

More importantly, and back to the point that Duncan Smith makes in his op-ed today (and as George Will, with whom I almost never agree, said yesterday), someday the Republicans are going to find themselves back in the minority. Duncan Smith's example derives from an 1887 decision by a Conservative government to allow the majority party to set limits on parliamentary debate in order to curb filibuster-style protests by minorities. For the past 118 years, the minority parties in Parliament have chafed under this 'guillotine rule' - and recently it's been the Conservatives (who originally backed the guillotine) who have come to revile it. The same, both he and Will suggest, could very well happen to the Republicans at some point down the line), and at that time the party will certainly regret have fired this irretrievable arrow from their tactical quiver.

There's still a glimmer of hope that a compromise of some kind might be worked out before the nuclear option is deployed. This is, clearly, the most desirable option for both sides, since the Democrats don't want to allow themselves to be painted with the "obstructionist" brush any more than they absolutely have to. If worst comes to worst, though, and the vote is called, it will come down to a few moderate Republican senators who will have to decide whether to buck their party in its long term interests, or support the current leadership in its push forward to what will surely be a Pyrrhic victory.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Some Things I Believe In

- An energetic government which protects the rights and needs of its citizens without unnecessary intrusion into their private lives.
- Respect for minority rights, because sooner or later each of us is going to find ourselves in the minority.
- Environmental protection, through government regulation if necessary.
- A strict separation between government and religion, as envisioned by the Framers of our Constitution.
- The importance of a free and unfettered media that doesn't rely on pre-packaged government propaganda pieces masquerading as news.
- A foreign policy that recognizes the validity of views other than our own and includes consultation and compromise with allies and uses armed action as a last resort, not a first response.
- The responsibility that each of us have to ensure that all Americans have access to adequate education, health care, and basic services.
- A well-funded national service program to provide opportunities for young Americans to serve their country in some capacity prior to attending college.
- Compromise as the conduit to solutions to all these issues (and to those I have neglected to mention as well).

More on probably all of these things sooner or later.

Greetings & Salutations slash Mission Statement

Welcome to the Charging RINO's blog. What's a RINO, you might ask ... and why, more importantly, is it charging? RINO (i.e. 'Republican In Name Only') is the name given to those of us in the moderate to liberal wings of the Republican Party by those in the not-so-moderate-to-liberal wings of that same party. It's not meant to be a nice name.

I am, however, proud to call myself a RINO. I'd much rather be a Republican "In Name Only" and still stand up for the ideals upon which our party was founded than get in line with the current party leadership and surrender those ideals to the demands and whims of those on the radical fringe. (Note the intentional non-use of the term 'conservative', as I do not believe that today's Republican leadership has any right to describe themselves as such.) I'm charging now because I can't sit back and watch partisan gridlock overtake America, and because I am hopeful that if more moderates like me (whether you're a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or something else entirely) stand up and speak our minds, instead of getting frustrated and becoming disillusioned, we really can 'change the tone' in Washington and solve some of the many important problems facing our country today.

RINOs come in all kinds. Some believe that because you're a Republican (even if "In Name Only") you still should vote for Republican candidates across the board even if you don't agree with them. Some think you should even go out and campaign with Republican candidates even if you don't agree with them. I'm not that kind of RINO. Positions have always been more important to me than party identification: while I voted for John McCain (in fact volunteered for his campaign) during the 2000 primary season, I voted for Gore in that general election, and supported Kerry last November. This makes me, in the eyes of most Republicans, a traitor at best, and some would probably ship me off to Guantanamo as an 'enemy combatant' if they could get away with it.

Compromise has, from the very beginning, been a key part of our government's structure. In recent years, however, compromise has come to play an ever-decreasing role in the way things get done in Washington. The administration likes to "bring people together", but only with the sort-of-important caveat that you already have to agree with their position ("I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals," Bush said on November 4, 2004). Seems to me we could get a whole lot more accomplished if we put people who had different views in a room and urged them to reach agreement. Pick your issue: Social Security, judicial nominations, global warming, you name it -- find a common point of agreement, get people talking, and eventually a compromise will be reached. It might not be exactly what each person wanted at the beginning, but isn't that the point? Republicans need to learn that there's nothing wrong with working together with Democrats to solve problems, and in fact our country would almost certainly be better served if that were the case.

I don't want to make this too long, so I will say in conclusion that all the things (and more) that I've talked about are the point of this blog. I will provide links to interesting things I've read or seen in the media, with probably a bit of editorial comment that you can take or leave as you see fit. Occasionally I will rant. If you don't like what I have to say, feel free to comment. If you do like what I have to say, by all means comment as well. Sometimes I will urge you to call or write your representatives in Washington about something important. I might recommend a book or two. I will always welcome your thoughts and criticisms - the importance of informed debate and open discussion simply cannot be overstated. I hope that this will be a fun and interesting experience for me, and I hope you'll come back again.