Tip of the Hat

This month's Tip of the Hat segment will be a two-fer with a common theme.  See if you can guess what it is.

First up, Andrew Sullivan's critique of David Frum's endorsement of Mitt Romney in The Daily Beast might be the best retort I've seen yet on this wild notion sported by moderate conservatives like Frum and David Brooks that somehow Romney is nothing more than a sheep in wolf's clothing.

While Sullivan is hardly a conservative in the traditional sense of the word, he is hardly a liberal either, despite the fact that he endorsed Barack Obama (read "The Moral Case for Obama").  You might recall it was Sullivan who had to be walked back from the edge of the cliff after the President's dreadful performance in his first debate. I'm sure he's feeling a lot better these days. He sure wasn't pulling any punches in this piece.

Not to be outdone, David Frum has an equally insightful piece - also in The Daily Beast - on what ails the Republican Party.  I'll give you a hint, it's not a lack of conservatism.

by Andrew Sullivan

Frum tries to make it:

The country's most pressing economic problem IS the break-down of the old middle-class economy. Wages are stagnating at the middle, class lines are hardening, and more and more of the benefits of growth are claimed by the very wealthiest. President Obama delivered his answer to this problem in his important speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, a year ago: more direct government employment (at higher wages), more government contracting (to enforce higher wages), and more government aid to college students (in hope that expanding the number of degree holders will raise their average wage).

Obama is following a path explored by the British Labor governments of 1997-2010, when the majority of the net new jobs created in northern and western England, Scotland, and Wales were created in the public sector. That approach pushed Britain into fiscal crisis, when the recession abruptly cut the flow of funds from south-eastern England to pay everybody else's government salary. 

So far, under Obama, private sector job growth has vastly outpaced the public sector. And the big public unions, like the teachers', have been directly challenged. They're losing in the states. And in so far as inequality is driven by globalization, public investment in education has to be a key part of the answer. I agree with David on the benefits of a carbon tax, but which party is likelier to enforce that? I agree with him on the need for a balanced Grand Bargain - but I don't believe Obama wants to end the Bush tax cuts on those earning more than $250,000 because he wants more government. He's proposing that to help balance the budget over time.

But my real objections to David's endorsement are the following. The premise of his argument is that Romney is a liar of massive proportions whose campaign David accurately describes as "one long appeasement of the most selfish and stupid elements of the Republican coalition," but who actually, in private, doesn't believe a word of it. So not to worry. The "real" Romney will emerge - compassionate, moderate, practical and data-driven, as in Massachusetts - the day after he is elected.

Some questions. First off, he worked in Massachusetts with an 85 percent Democratic legislature. That's a guide to how he'd run the entire country with a Republican Congress? Not buying it. But secondly, if Frum is right, then Romney does not have the character to be president of the US. Someone who lies his way to the top will have no credibility with the American people and no mandate from his party. I do not believe we should elect a fathomless cynic to the White House. David's argument for Romney is even worse than David Brooks': Brooks predicts that circumstances will force Romney into pragmatism. Frum simply says that nary a jot of what Romney said in the primaries is what he actually believes.

To wit:

I don't want to see Obamacare repealed. I don't believe it will be, not even if the Republicans retake the Senate, which I don't expect either.

And yet Romney has said it will be his first priority on Day One to end the program despised by every element of his far right party. He says this almost every day. David thinks Romney is cynical enough to make that clear, binding pledge day after day, ad after ad, and then instantly renege on it, even with a Republican majority in both Houses. Again, if David's right, Romney lacks the character to be president. If he's wrong, he's voting for the wrong presidential candidate.

The question of what would better help get the GOP back to sanity and concern with solving the actual problems we face is a real one. David thinks that Romney would help. Given that he has surrendered at every single point in this campaign to the furthest right in his party - all the way from firing Ric Grenell to endorsing Richard Mourdock - I fail to see the logic. He Etch-A-Sketched as late as October because of this, which reveals his weakness with respect to his own party. (Compare his father's courage and candor to Mitt's cravenness and salesmanship.)

My own view is that the only way to rehinge an unhinged party is for it to lose badly. And because Romney put Ryan on the ticket, and endorsed the entire Tea Party shebang, it will be hard for the wingnuts to blame defeat on running a moderate. I think the likeliest combination for a Grand Bargain is Obama, a Democratic House and a Republican Senate. That won't happen. But the second likeliest is Obama, a Democratic Senate and a GOP House with a smaller majority. I cannot see Romney compromising on revenues at all if he is president, with a GOP House, which kills the chance for a deal. When Jim DeMint says that an Obama victory would force a GOP retreat on their no-revenue-increase-ever theology, I believe him.And when the left starts fretting that Obama really will cut a Grand Bargain that tackles entitlements, I think they have every reason to.

As for war, there is a clear difference between a candidate advocating pre-emptive war on a country for merely having the technological capability of having a nuclear bomb, and one advocating war as a last resort if a nuclear bomb is actually made and able to reach outside the borders of the country. One is a violation of just war theory and would make the West the aggressor in a global religious conflict. The other is the least worst option, given the power of the Greater Israel Lobby and US public opinion. The other difference is that Romney would launch a trade war with China at a very precarious moment in the global economy, and whose election would be greeted with dismay by every ally, except Israel's. Why? Because Romney will put the settlement policy on steroids and permanently end the chance for a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine. Romney will also bring back torture as an instrument of government policy in America. That's a huge moral difference.

There are many common areas between my views of where we are, and David's. And I too want a more vibrant and sane conservatism that can indeed reform Obamacare, scour government for waste, tackle Medicare's costs, radically reform taxes, and focus on inequality as a scourge of democracy. But that conservatism no longer exists in the GOP. And, in my view, only a thorough thumping of the extremists at the polls can bring it back. 

The Tea Party: the GOP's Own Worst Enemy

My National Post column describes why the Tea Party has caused Republicans to lose elections that seemed well within their grasp.

The Obama-Romney contest will get the eyeballs, but the more important battle Tuesday night will be the battle for control of Congress.

Today, Republicans control the House of Representatives 242-193. Democrats hold the Senate, 53-47 (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont).

Most House-watchers expect the Republicans to lose seats, but not enough to forfeit control. The mid-range scenario projects losses of between seven and 11 for the GOP. Losses on that scale would not jeopardize Republican control. They would, however, imply the defeat of almost all the more moderate conservatives in the Republican caucus. If Barack Obama wins reelection, he’ll meet a House even more hostile and intransigent than the House that nearly pushed the United States into default on its obligations in the summer of 2011.

The Senate outlook is even grimmer for Republicans. Earlier in the year, Republicans hoped they might win both the presidency and the Senate, restoring their post-9/11 united control of all three elected branches of government. Now it seems more probable that the Democrats will expand their Senate majority, most likely by picking up Republican-held Senate seats in Massachusetts and Indiana, and holding once seemingly vulnerable Democratic seats in Virginia and Missouri.

How? Why?

The short answer is: The Tea Party struck again.

Indiana, for example, should have been an easy Republican hold. One of the most Republican states outside the South, Indiana has elected only three Democrats to the U.S. Senate since World War II, two of them the father-and-son succession of Birch Bayh and Evan Bayh. The seat open in 2012 had been held by Richard Lugar, a senator best known for his work to secure loose Soviet-era nuclear materials. Lugar won his last race, in 2006, with 87% of the vote.

But Lugar was growing old and—worse—had cooperated too much with President Obama. A Tea Party Republican named Richard Mourdock launched a primary challenge against Lugar and won. Mourdock then proceeded to share his ideas with the broader Indiana electorate, including this one: “I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Those words were pronounced in the heat of a televised debate. Mourdock later clarified that he did not mean to say that rape is intended by God; only that rape-caused pregnancies are intended by God. The clarification did not help, to say the least, and Mourdock now badly trails his conservative Democratic opponent.

Mourdock was not the only Republican candidate to expatiate on the subject of rape.

Read the entire column at the National Post.