State of Play Spring 2013

Enough time has passed since the election for us to ask “What precisely has been learned?”

Unsurprisingly and unfortunately, “Not much”.

Our politics remain inert and non-enrolling because there aren’t any, aside from the febrile paroxysms within the Movement. We remain isolated and suspended, our very expression of self denied by the suffocating paralysis of Obama and the Democrats’ admonition “At least we are not Them”. Their impotence is imposed upon us.

Witness the Commentariat. What to make of self-identified progressives and liberals [sic] trolling CPAC in 2013? Old 6 years ago. How little understanding still. One well known ‘liberal’ commentator asked “Why do Republicans allow CPAC to happen?” And so on. Decrying Politico’s transactional information culture misses that’s always been DC.

More damningly, the same Commentariat continuously is surprised by events. After their ‘reporting’ these last years purporting to explain Movements, political and economic histories. Do they not read their own words? Demonstrating that the last 20 years taught them nothing. Leaving us further stifled.

The Post November Hangover
It’s Just Something In The Eye

Cheney et al. re-taught the world the basic lesson: process is not politics. Process can serve political purposes, can illuminate and clarify values and goals, but by itself is a nullity. Yet for the last five years, non-radicalized political space in America has been wholly subsumed by nothing other than process and related commentary. We remain stupefied, distracted from concrete engagement by empty rhetorical ephemera and Tweets.

Nothing has changed.

That’s not to say, for example, that real choices aren’t being made. They are. But as defensive reaction to a fraction of a minority’s submersion in ritual role-play as self-identity. So we are dosed with ‘victories’ permanently enshrining 99% of Cheney’s tax cuts. Surely, you have another favorite.

Perhaps you are thinking health care? Recall health care largely began in the House. With the Senate trailing. A disaster in the making because the other Branch remained bizarrely mute at times – after the infamous Tauzin meeting. Many times the entire enterprise careened into near failure needlessly (from the Ds point of view). Labeling the legislation Obamacare later does not make it so. These words have profound meaning.

As one example, Andy Pincus, former General Counsel at the Clinton Commerce Department, largely on his own initiative and tardily dominated a Republican controlled conference successfully on a major bill that affects your very ability to read this. The EOP wasn’t even really paying attention. Pincus manipulated the appearance of EOP interest to sow discord among Republican factions.

Don’t take our word for it. Committee staffers for a once powerful ex-senator from Texas railed in the press about the Republican debacle. Among others who blamed Lott, etc.

That’s just example when a departmental lawyer can have an impact on a frozen, tectonic situation. The level of toxicity then only seems less with time. Knowing when and how to engage is crucial. Or being lucky. It’s possible Pincus never planned or even knew how Republicans perceived his role. But he acted even if as Quixote.

So back to today. Dinners are nice. Phone calls, too. But if not wed to an expression of goals transcending serving process they’re ultimately nihilism. All of us here have long prepared for accepting calamity by disengaged default in lieu of catastrophe. Long before others, our hearty band here diagnosed the Disengagement Disease (AKA as Goldilocks Syndrome – ed.). November’s sweet escape from Movement’s grasp turns sour quickly.

If only so-called progressives, etc. mocking CPAC, for example, could husband that energy building real, tangible post-2016 politics. All of us in our hearts feel their lack. Perhaps the 2008-2012 crowd took our measure correctly. And dreams of escaping our marginalization become merely recursive. One thing we do control: our hope.

Obama’s Inauguration 2013: Sometimes A Little Is Enough

Watching Obama move through ritual and choreographed set pieces yesterday, one couldn’t help but imagine it had things gone otherwise in November. That mercy alone validates another 4 years of tactical placeholding.

That’s not to say Obama’s post-November actions reek of the same political ineptitude and disengagement that marked his tepid first term. He’s beginning to show glimmers that he finally grasps his role is inherently political. That it is OK to win and be seen winning. His decision to spin off his electoral database/network into a 501(c)(4) for future political deployment is likewise encouraging. Could Goldilocks be a thing of the past?

Obama On The New, New Frontier
Obama On The New, New Frontier

Yet it’s still remarkable how feeble these steps are after the last 12 (30) years. Democratic triumphalism now is particularly disturbing. The underlying political incompetence of the Democratic party has not changed. Assuming temporary Movement narrative disarray will be permanent just an example. More damning, the sophomoric gloating of a permanent future majority on birthrates alone is utterly dubious.

Malthusian extrapolation of future generations based on 2012 demographic voting blocks is simply not professionally defensible. True, Republicans debate whether Obama represents a tectonic shift or a personality-led (read ‘black’ but not on their powerpoint slides) phenomenon. But to assume blithely that Latinos, etc. will bestow offspring genetically committed to Democrats is to squat on sand. Beyond a turnout machine, what have the Democrats or Obama really built?

Let Obama Be Reagan . . .

Sadly, not much. People too young actually to remember Reagan tell us Obama was ‘Reagan-esque’. Albeit of the so-called progressive bent. Those ‘progressive’ cable bloviators who do remember Reagan utter banal delusions that we should return to the Reagan era’s collegiately and bi-partisanship. That Reagan was a kindly grandfather who just had a fixation about the Soviets. Ignoring Iran-Contra, the Sandanistas, Bork, Zero Option and SDI.

All nonsense. First, Reagan’s election (and inaugural addresses) culminated the Movement’s first massive co-opting of the Republican Party. Not the converse like Obama. Aside from shared sentiment, there is little to suggest the Democratic Party as an institution is configured for such a political campaign.

Second, Obama has it backward. The Movement was already solidly entrenched, coordinated and linked by infrastructure before Reagan’s election. The Movement hit the ground running. For example, when Heritage published ‘Mandate for Leadership’, Morton Blackwell and many others had already placed key personnel on the Hill and provided troops to sweep into the Executive Branch. Case in point? Gary Bauer, who toiled over at the Education Department at an obscure junior level, believe it or not. And so on across the Administration.

Finally, the Movement as a coherent (if amorphous) collection of ideological strands was already a real local and state presence before Reagan won in 1980. The Movement’s strands may have bickered internally but all sure as hell knew the enemy, and all were dedicated to its destruction. And when they began in the 1970s, they were willing to work for a future triumph knowing it might be far off.

The differences with the Democratic Party 2013 or Obama’s GOTV apparatus clear. MSNBC, Twitter, etc. might compress the time required for replicating the Movement’s meme distribution ala Reagan. But cadre development and building institutions take time regardless. Certainly more than the year (year and a half?) available to Obama before 2016 overshadows all.

Obama’s campaign database might be a useful first step in that direction. A long term political realignment requires a more robust infrastructure intellectually and physically than one election’s volunteer mobilization and GOTV.

To seek a Reagan-like political alignment, Obama (note not the Democratic Party) would be bizarrely trying to do on the fly, upside down. It’s a shame because we urged the Democratic Party and ‘progressives’ to start this effort since 2005. Had that happened, much that happened yesterday would have profound and real impact. Today it’s just, well, hope.

Can Obama build a durable political transformation now, when he is already a lame duck walking? It’ll be interesting to watch a man so utterly disdainful of political engagement try.

Still, how pleasant to write this instead of witnessing November’s alternative lurching to life.

Status Quo – The Line Holds, For Now

Such relief to see the map turn blue. We’ve four more years with Obama as placeholder. Certainly more acceptable than the alternative.

How delightful to see our old good acquaintance Liz Warren triumph. She now sits in the body that refused to give her an up or down vote.

Last night the Movement’s despair and disbelief the finest wine. Watching Rove rage at Megyn Kelly so sweet. You probably have your own favorite story.

Obama Steps On A Bug, Barely

All acknowledge Obama’s technical mastery of the ground game. That advantage will be transient. Political techniques and technologies proliferate quickly.

It’s worth realizing that Democrats and the so-called ‘Left’ [sic] would have lost to Romney and Movement revanchism but for that transient advantage.

It’s worth recalling that Democrats and pundits sputtered about Romney’s shameless serial expediency. Neocons ran with it in 2002-2003. And in 2012 Democrats and non-Rightist media are still clueless. And call out ‘unfair’ to some non-existent referee.

It’s worth realizing that in November 2012 Democrats and the so-called ‘Left’ [sic] were stunned to see overt voter suppression. The Ohio Secretary of State or Rick Scott in Florida flaunted brazenly contempt for the Constitution. Sure, Democrats earlier launched scattered legal actions, but the outcomes left the Rightists free to suppress and Democrats unprepared narratively.

The Days Ahead

Obama’s victory offers some unalloyed bright spots. The Supreme Court won’t be radicalized and suborned. The Neocons are not running DoD, State and the NSC. Bibi will not write 100% of U.S. policy in the region.

For the Democrats, the question remains what have they learned from 2001-2012? They are still consumed with process. Movements evolve (by definition). Democrats have yet to demonstrate they can confront and defeat an opponent with purposeful ideological focus.

For Republicans, the Movement naturally circles the wagons. Scapegoats get attention. Today, we heard a lot about revenge on Chris Christie.

The notion of a new, ‘moderate’ Republican Party is implausible. First, realigning a Movement based on empirical data and rational analysis is antithetical to the very notion of the Movement. Movements expand or alter their shape and ideological content through new narratives, and enrolling people in that new line. If a Democrat doesn’t understand that by now, they should be fired for professional malpractice.

Who can start that narrative? Among the elected leadership there are no moderates. Those called ‘moderate’ by talking heads like Chris Christie are moderate only when compared to Paul Ryan. Perhaps one or two may seek to gain brand visibility by ‘going Maverick’. Changing a narrative, however, requires internal influence and control.

On the periphery, professional Republican operatives are furiously sending each other PPT slides and speadsheets and they may have narrative impact on the margin. Already they’re calling for a smarter, more agile Movement that retains its inherent nature but seeks to poach elements from Obama’s turnout on an issue by issue basis. Republican operatives, however, don’t determine primaries.

Any change in the Movement narrative requires infiltration into the thought generation centers and distribution channels. Fox is merely the most obvious. It’s a monumental undertaking, far more audacious and protracted than a 10 minute chuckle-fest with Mika and Joe. If any of our Righist friends embark on that journey we wish them well.

Four more years. They will go by quickly. May they treat each of you, Dear Readers, and everyone, well.

An Incoherent Debate For An Unsettled World

Tonight’s foreign policy debate exemplified the American drift into Ken Kesey-esque inconsequentialities. For a staggered World Power facing a vast array of concerted geo-strategic challenges, Romney and Obama spent most of the evening catering to Likudist sensibilities and Bibi’s meddling in American domestic politics.

Obama may have won the evening on points if the old monoculture consensual, empirical reality existed. We suspect in that Kesey-esque miasma, Romney’s gleeful expediency and disdain for facts or truth activated the Movement’s desire to pull everything down around us.

In a way, the debate might be like Harry Summers in the 1970s, claiming the U.S. Army never lost a battle in Vietnam – while NVA tanks were parked in the American Embassy. So-called progressives on CNNMSNBC and spin reps like John Kerry don’t understand why Romney cavalierly jettisoned his entire campaign record. They sputter that Romney can’t be allowed to do that. And prove yet again why they lose and we lose relying on them, too.

But what choice do we have?

Maybe A Little Is Enough

The Boy King, resplendent as Beta Male, finally threw some sand back at Romney. Last encounter left Obama cowering on the beach, withering under Romney’s taunts. We doubt Obama’s new found spine will reverse matters much; perhaps it’s just enough to cling to the status quo.

Each a caricature of their Platonic forms: introverted, cerebral, passive ‘decider’ and hyper aggressive entitled bully. Romney unleashed his inner Al Pacino, chewing the town hall stage scenery with gusto. Mercifully he omitted a “Hoohah!” after walking over moderator Crowley or even Obama. Obama had a George McFly moment, finally deciding to stand up to the bully Biff.

Perhaps Obama can slink through Ohio and hold on to his presidency. If you are reading this, you already agree that a Movement Restoration remains too alarming to contemplate. Even so, who really looks forward to 4 more years of Obama’s weakness, timidity, compulsive compromising, detachment and judgmental disengagement?

Obama Debates Romney: “Can You See The Real Me? Can You?”*

We’re all social creatures in the end, responding to rational and irrational, often subconscious cues every day of our lives. Obama’s calamitous first encounter with a Mountain Dew-amped Romney a case in point.

We all saw the real Obama. It explains much about his tepid first term, his inability to engage in actual politics, his passive enabling of the Movement’s unnecessarily swift resurrection. In other words? Every single post here ever about him.

Let’s dispense with canards. Of course, Obama is rusty for debates. So too, sitting presidents are unaccustomed to challenge. The ephemeral opinion cycle (why bother calling it ‘news’ anymore?) minutiae offers other transient tidbits about Obama’s alleged debate’strategy’, etc. None really matter.

The True Obama Is Frankly Not Appealing

Obama as man and president doesn’t like practicing politics. Or deigning to talk with people to win their support. Obama has two modes: aspirational bromide salesman and the reclusive decider, judging other people and policy. Otherwise, he’s oddly more artificial than Romney.

People intuitively sense when someone wants to win their support with passion (Clinton, in a compulsively needy but successful way). Or even Romney. Last night, Romney came across as someone doing a well rehearsed offering roadshow. (We’ve done them with The Blackstone Group). He was selling. As they say in the movie, “Always be closing”.

We don’t respond well as social animals to being told it’s rational to do this or that. Remember that relative from Hell at a holiday dinner? Without aspirations, what does Obama really have to sell? Beyond he’s a good compromiser?

Mitt, It’s President Kerry On Line Two

One debate doesn’t necessarily an election make. Look at President Kerry. Obama is bright enough to be coached to better performances. As Lee Atwater famously said, “Once you fake sincerity, you’ve got it made”. We’ve a race over who’s the most plausibly inauthentic.

Will the debates matter? Only to the extent they alter the few battleground states. Romney’ll gain ground in both Ohio and Virginia at least. Both candidates fluctuate within 47% to 51%. We still think it’s Obama’s to lose but now with less margin for error.

What disturbed us most about Obama’s debate performance? What it means for Obama’s second term. We saw last night Obama unleashed. Feel the excitement?

Neither do we. But then, placeholders are rarely memorable.

* At maximum volume.

P.S. We’re loathe to remind the netroots and so-called progressives ‘We told you so.’ But we did. Daily in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Establishment Republican Fantasies Of Fall 2012

Dreams of returning to glory in 2016 on a wave of . . . Jon Hunstman-mania? More common than you might think, Dear Reader – at least in some benighted quarters.

Here’s the Cliff Note version: Establishment Republicans (what’s left of them) tire of feigning allegiance to the Movement to escape cannibalization. So the dream begins with a Movement-Romney car wreck in 2012. To pave the way for radical moderation in 2016. Moderation of course is relative. But that’s marketing.

Does every dream star Huntsman? No. But he’s a convenient reference. A placeholder for full throated moderation unleashed. That he failed so completely in 2012 is a minor quibble.

Republican Fantasies Require Democrats Do The Heavy Lifting

This dream’s highlights? Obama and Democrats (note the distinction) do all the hard, dirty work: absorb Movement punches, tire them out and stagger to be last man standing in 2012. These dreaming Republicans lack the spine and commitment to take back their party the old fashioned way, on the ground, from local to state and federal levels, think tanks, etc. They’re actually more feckless than their rootless Democrat counterparts. Which says a lot.

You might well ask how a militantly moderate figure could ever navigate base-controlled primaries. Or whether 2012 failure might merely further radicalize the Movement, excusing failure with Romney as convenient scapegoat. Can militant Republican [sic] moderation survive in a Citizens United world?

You’re right to wonder. We’ve posed the same questions. Already, for example, Scott Walker in Wisconsin is calling for “Let Ryan Be Ryan” and to Ryan-ize Romney. The blame game goes both ways.

Dreamers answer that their money-shot (if you will) is 4 more years of political and economic stagnation. Obama’s just a nice guy but a flawed political figure. Leaving the door open for Americans desperate for seemingly practical, across-the-aisles solutions. From ‘a uniter, not a divider’. As dreamers get more excited telling this tale, they imagine [Hunstman/Jeb/Your Name Here] surging through the primaries riding a tidal wave of agreeability and common sense. USA! USA! But with BMWs and Volvos.

The Script Needs Work

Implausible? We agree with you. The Establishment Republicans sound so much like the Bourbons in exile. They’re essentially passive. Obama will stop the Movement now. Events, fate, Providence then will deliver circumstances in 2016 ripe for them.

Establishment Republicans themselves do nothing. As they have since 1993. These dreaming Republicans are like lilies in the field (per Ecclesiastes). Worse, they have no ideas of their own. In fact, to hear their laundry list of what Republicans should campaign on, it’s often Newt without Newt. Simply because those ideas are already out there – national prestige programs are the rage, like the Moon again for some reason. Their own version of Prague Spring – Newt with a ‘human face’.

Complicating matters? Both Biden and HRC already embody the marketing space these Republicans dream about. True, fatigue with Democrats in 2016 is a real possibility, and a referendum on a third Obama term tricky. Yet they and other national Democrats can actually practice politics now and then.

We enjoy reading La Noonan’s latest catty column on the Romney campaign. Or Kristol’s despair. Car wrecks command attention. Although the election’s still close. But the long game? For these dreamers, 2016 is no longer idle salad fork chatter but now with the main course.

Democrats In Wisconsin Confirm Now Is Oligarchy’s Time

Democrat failure to recall Scott Walker presages a new phase of demotic politics: nascent oligarchical entrenchment. In the post Bush era, oligarchy until now is largely insurgent and opportunistic, feeding off astro turfed Tea Parties or knee-capping Democratic initiatives.

Walker’s success shows oligarchy is finally battle tested. It stood its ground and Walker outperformed 2010 tallies. The Rightist national activation reveals a functionally cohesive movement. Radicalism and divide and conquer tactics are viable tools to seize and maintain power.

By contrast, Democrats focused mostly on process. GOTV. Registration. Obama wouldn’t deign to get involved at any stage but wanted to test *his* state campaign ground game. Most of the newly registered voters went for Walker.

Oligarchy,Wisconsin Recall

Axelrod et al. complain about the money. As well they should. But tellingly national Democrats clearly lack the same philosophical commitment as Rightists about collective bargaining.

Last night in Wisconsin was lost years ago. As we predicted in March 2011. We all know, Dear Reader, Wisconsin was a battle over destroying collective bargaining. It’s the age old struggle between unconstrained capital and individuals lacking power except in numbers. Except Democrats forgot the reason for that story. Thus, national Democrats rallying to unions strikes a false note, a cynical posing – with the grating exception of Ed Schultz, who undeniably gets unions.

The time to defend unions and their socio-political purpose was 20 years ago. A healthy political coalition defends an ally under attack when the ally is still strong. One reason Rightists rise up at every perceived attack meme.

Democrats themselves threw unions under the bus just like the oligarchs. Oh, unions get lip service. But operationally? Ed Rendell told unions to shove it in Philadelphia, etc. Clinton famously sent them all to hell with NAFTA and GATT, for example.

All in service of essentially Rightist fantasy ideology in which ‘consumer welfare’ is the acme of wisdom. Easy to do when everyone’s standard of living rode the promise of a bubble economy. Democrats abandoned social philosophy for consumer atavism and are indistinguishable from Republicans except for flaunting lifestyle affectations. On the Acela clutching their iPad they might feel uneasy over Foxconn slave labor suicides in China – but not because of the inequities of wealth and life circumstances. The *suicides make them feel bad about their purchases*.

And now, with constricting life opportunities and prospects for consumption, these same Democrats are easy prey for oligarchical politics of envy. Why should *those* unions remain uncrushed when *you* can’t afford a new iPhone? Unions are an affront to one’s notion of consumerism, which is to say purpose.

In the 1990s a billionaire friend of ours asked to meet Newt. He was the real life person for one of the characters in Stone’s Wall Street. He over dinner tried to explain to Newt what passage of NAFTA and GATT would mean. People like him, he said, would become even richer, but capital mobility without constraint would destroy the middle class.

He made an eloquent appeal to a superficial dim bulb, but it was also the best argument against Clinton and that crowd, too. Something no Democrat made. Then or now.

Surviving The Election 2012 Posturing – Begin !

Are you agile enough to reconcile Election 2012’s shifting memes? It’s the first round. Here they come.

What about centrist accommodation rushing at you as vigorous, valiant defense of the at risk? Did they get you? Maybe that was too easy. How about technocratic accommodation gussied up as ‘severely’ conservative? How many rounds can you survive until November?

Give it a whirl. It’s harder than it looks.

(P.S. If your iDevice shows a blank you know why . . .)

Are You In The ‘New Democratic Coalition’ Or ‘Democratic New Coalition’?

American systemic political dysfunction now meanders into its second decade. Its proximate causes are many. One of them? The dissolution of political parties as functional aggregators and articulators of meaningful political programs.

Broken political process may mean paralytic governance. Still, elections happen. So how do parties respond?

For the Movement, the auto da fé continues. A process begun in full force stretching back to Baker and Duberstein long before the so-called Tea Party. As we’ve discussed, because a Movement survives only by internal narrative control, not institutional belonging, elections are only a secondary consideration. Of course, the Movement wants to win, but elections are just episodically part of the narrative. Elections bestow legitimacy only on Movement victories.

The Democrats, by contrast, still cling to elections as the political Ur Moment: valid and above all, determinative, political exercises. 2008 and the end of history. They sort of have to. Democrats forgot any coherent animating ideology and functioned as a special interest clearing house arguably 30 years ago. Their political relevance bestowed by inertia and luck. All they have is institutional control. 2006-2012 makes abundantly clear this entity’s inability to cope with, let alone surmount, apolitical animus. Obama’s not the only one to blame.

If elections happen, and someone has to win, what can House Democrats do? Apparently a few think a new label is the answer – a new ersatz faction, the self-proclaimed “New Democrat Coalition” (NDC) . Not to be confused with the long existent DLC splinter group, the New Democratic Network, NDC proponents believe that Democrats must move to the center (‘center’ defined by the current AgitProp environment). Their avowed political sweet spot? Social liberals who agree with or are at least amenable to Rightist economics.

It’s quixotic, of course. First, as you know, most House districts aren’t in play because of gerrymandering. Districts are deliberately designed to punish NDC-kind of fence straddling. The Blue Dogs (or Chris Shays, Tom Davis, etc.) could tell them that. Second, on an objective basis, Democrats are already there. Obama’s objectively governed center right. Hard to see an inside baseball label making much difference in any district where Obama underperforms.

If the NDC improbably catches on and becomes a quasi ‘thing’, how will they survive? We’ve previously sat through untold numbers of Blue Dog breakfasts, receptions and soirees representing big companies. Mostly to be polite.

The Blue Dogs’d ask for cheques, “Support us, we’re pro-business unlike San Francisco Democrats and we can get your legislation through”. Except, of course, they couldn’t really, marginalized within their caucus. And for what they offered, Republicans already covered. In short, they made no political difference. Our companies always walked away (although sometimes the food and drinks were ok), reluctantly giving to others in actual power. (Contrary to popular belief, most companies find the constant shakedown annoying at best, even for their issue champions).

The NDC? Perhaps they’ll have a killer logo.