Tag Archives: Richard Mourdock

Learning the Right Lessons

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Politicians, like generals, often look backward for guidance rather than to the future. Just as generals, as the saying goes, always fight the last war, politicians tend to take the perceived lessons from the last campaign as inspiration for the next one. Democrats and Republicans alike are pouring over the results of last Tuesday’s election to glean nuggets upon which to base strategy for the 2022 midterm elections.

But, are they drawing the right lessons?

No one elected Biden to be the second coming of FDR

Virginia Democratic Representative Abigail Spanberger said of President Joe Biden after the election: “Nobody elected him to be FDR, they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos.” Spanberger is a two-term member of Congress from Virginia. In 2018, Spanberger defeated David Brat, an ultra-conservative Republican incumbent, to become the first Democrat to represent her district since 1971. She is understandably nervous about her political fortunes in a district that Biden carried narrowly but which voted for Donald Trump for president in 2016 and which Glenn Youngkin won handily in his victory in last week’s gubernatorial election.

Spanberger is wrong historically and politically. Nobody in 1932 elected FDR to be FDR! Those who voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not have any inkling of the scope and extent of the New Deal. Roosevelt ran a cautious campaign, partly because he and his advisers did not fully understand the structural causes of the Great Depression and had not yet fully developed plans to combat the economic catastrophe. Also, Roosevelt realized how unpopular Herbert Hoover, the incumbent was, so he said little of substance, hoping to not commit any gaffes.

Politically, Spanberger is wrong. Now, it is possible that Democrats in Spanberger’s district played down Biden’s progressive agenda, but in deep blue parts of the country voters knew exactly for whom they were voting. Biden’s campaign was not shy about touting guaranteed family and medical leave, lower cost prescription drugs, universal preschool, free community college, expanded broadband, and a vigorous attack on climate change. 

In other words, all the progressive measures in the Build Back Better Bill were part of Biden’s campaign. 

The 2021 election was a defeat for progressivism

Maybe! But, it is also possible to look at the results and conclude that Republican gains came because of Democratic dithering in Washington. After all, the infrastructure package passed Congress after Election Day, and Democrats are still struggling to enact the Build Back Better Act. Terry McAuliffe, the defeated Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, begged Democrats in Washington to “get their act together” and pass Biden’s agenda. 

Would it have made a difference? Who knows? But, this we do know: Individual parts of the Biden program are very popular with voters. Passage of most of the president’s agenda, coupled with a vigorous campaign to inform voters that Democrats are legislating on their behalf (yes, working on behalf of their constituents — what a novel idea!), might have an impact next November. Part of that campaign must be to highlight the contrast between Democrats and their do-nothing Republican opponents. After all, former President Donald Trump kept promising an “infrastructure week,” but it never happened. Democrats passed a significant infrastructure bill a “mere” 11 months into Biden’s presidency. 

Democrats must compete for the rural vote

Yes, the urban-rural vote divide is real and getting worse for Democrats. And, yes, Democrats should be competitive in all demographic and geographic groups and areas. But, it is easy to over-analyze the Virginia results.

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin outperformed Donald Trump’s 2020 showing in even the reddest counties, winning rural Virginia counties by record margins. But, that is not the whole story of the Virginia election. McAuliffe won voter-rich Fairfax County, a Washington suburb, by 30 points. Biden beat Trump in Fairfax by 42 points. Same in Loudon County, which Biden carried by 25 points in 2020, but McAuliffe won by only 11. 

The lesson here? The rural vote should be contested, but McAuliffe lost in 2021 because he bled suburban voters.

Youngkin won because he handled Trump correctly

Yes, Youngkin ran a smart campaign, cleaving close enough to the discredited former president so as not to alienate Trump’s base, but keeping Trump far enough away in order to lure moderate suburban voters. But, it takes two to tango, and Youngkin’s strategy worked because Trump cooperated, staying out of Virginia and not saying anything too damaging. Will the irrepressible former president cooperate in 2022? His track record indicates he will intervene in many races.

Republicans should nominate moderates

Youngkin is hardly a moderate, but he ran a campaign that appealed to the particular concern of Virginia voters in 2021: Outrage over the teaching of race in public schools. This is an issue drummed up by conservatives who want to push so-called cultural issues over actual policies that benefit voters. In his campaign, Youngkin succeeded in avoiding some of the more damaging pitfalls that have torpedoed conservative Republicans in the past. (See Ken Cuccinelli, an ultra-conservative candidate who ran an unsuccessful race in 2013 against McAuliffe for governor of Virginia.)

Youngkin became the Republican nominee for governor by winning an unusual ranked-choice vote implemented by the Virginia Republican Party to prevent the nomination of a right-wing kook (again, see Ken Cuccinelli). But, the Virginia template will not be the electoral structure in other states. Much more likely will be primary battles in which ultra-conservative candidates try to outrun each other to the far right to please Donald Trump. Republicans who can win primaries may not be strong candidates in general elections (see Christine O’Donnell in Delaware in 2010, Todd Akin in Missouri in 2012, and Richard Mourdock in Indiana in 2012.)


There are valuable lessons to be learned from the 2021 off-year election. But, it is easy to draw the wrong conclusions. Besides, the electoral environment may be starkly different in 2022. The recovering economy may be booming by next November, thanks in part to implementation of the Biden agenda. Voters may be in the mood to reward Democrats for legislating on their behalf. 

Posted November 9, 2020


Republicans at War — with Each Other

Remember Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell, a radical and whacky Republican who won a primary for the U.S. Senate in Delaware in 2010, only to lose in the general election? Or Todd Akin of “legitimate rape” fame, who lost a winnable Senate seat in Missouri in 2012. Or Richard Mourdock, who claimed that if a woman is impregnated during a rape “it’s something God Intended,” a comment that may have cost him Indiana’s Senate seat in 2012?

What these three candidates had in common was the ability to win low-turnout primaries by appealing to ultra-conservative Republicans, only then to fail to attract broad support in general elections. They all lost Senate seats that more moderate Republicans — or at least Republicans who did not alienate the moderate elements of the party and independents — might have won. O’Donnell, Akin, and Mourdock come to mind following the victory of Roy Moore — a far-right candidate who openly has defied court rulings — in Alabama’s GOP primary this week.

Moore will face Democratic candidate Doug Jones in the general election in December to fill the seat of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Jones is an attractive candidate, a former prosecutor of moderate views whom Democrats believe could be competitive against the far-right, radical Moore. But, beating Moore in the general election may be too high a mountain to scale. Alabama, after all, is Alabama, a state where Democrats have not been competitive in Senate races in more than 20 years.

The calculations may be different in states like Nevada and Arizona, where far-right candidates are challenging Senators Dean Heller and Jeff Flake, respectively. Upsets of the incumbents in those states might well give Democrats a chance to pick up GOP-held seats. Moore’s victory over an opponent who had the backing of President Donald Trump and the Republican establishment, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, may encourage other extremists to run against incumbent Republicans who are deemed too moderate or too “establishment.”

Moore’s victory once again illustrates just how divided the modern Republican Party has become. The Republican base distrusts the GOP establishment, which suffered two other stunning setbacks the day Moore walloped Luther Strange by 10 points in Alabama. First, Republican Senate leaders threw in the towel on repealing and replacing Obamacare, tacitly admitting that the party cannot govern and deliver on its long-standing campaign promise. Then, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee announced that he would retire at the end of his term in 2018. Corker is the respected chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and, more importantly for the GOP, his leaving the Senate puts Tennessee in play next year.

It is arguable who dislikes McConnell more, Republicans or Democrats. His endorsement of Strange against Moore, and his willingness to pour millions into the Alabama race, may have been the kiss of death for “Big Luther.” Long judged a wizard of parliamentary maneuvering, McConnell now oversees Republican control of the Senate at a time when long-standing intra-party conflicts render the GOP unable to govern. The failure to repeal Obamacare left McConnell looking incompetent. Imagine how disillusioned Republicans will be if he fails to usher tax reform though the upper chamber (a possibility).

The Alabama primary weakened Trump, who backed Strange at the pleading of McConnell and the urging of Trump’s political aides. Trump’s support of Strange always was lukewarm at best. Still, Trump favored the wrong horse, and the Alabama election shows that Trumpism may be stronger than Trump. Moore’s triumph reflects the same kind of insurgency that propelled Trump to the presidency.

Alabama also showed Trump the dangers of ignoring his right flank, for the primary pitted Trump against Steve Bannon, who campaigned for Moore, and the right-wing nationalist icon and former White House chief strategist won. Bannon viewed the Alabama election as a chance to demonstrate to Trump that there are limits to Trump’s control of his base. Trump believes his supporters will follow him anywhere, but Bannon’s intercession on behalf of Moore was intended to teach Trump that Trumpism reflects a rebellious right-wing ideology that is bigger and more powerful than the president.

Trump against Bannon and the GOP base challenging the establishment are the cross-currents devastating the Republican Party, preventing it from effectively governing despite its control of the White House and both houses of Congress. Trump’s presidency, after all, is based on a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. GOP leaders ignored all of Trump’s outrages because they assumed, falsely, that his agenda was their agenda and that he was interested in the party’s success, when in fact all Trump cares about his own popularity. The Republican establishment also assumed, again falsely, that legislative victories would follow if the party controlled the White House. Instead, the fact that Trump is not a “traditional” Republican (he may not be a Republican at all) made governing that much harder.

A divided Republican Party that cannot fulfill any of its campaign promises is ripe for more hostile takeovers. Expect ultra-right, nationalist challenges to “establishment” Republican incumbents in many primaries for Senate and House seats in 2018. But, if victorious, how would those candidates fare in the general elections? Will they share the fate of O’Donnell, Akin, and Moore and cost the GOP winnable seats?

Posted September 29, 2017

Mitch, You Should’ve Been Careful What You Asked For

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is known as a smooth political operator, more interested in the arcane rules governing the working of the Senate than in the ideological substance behind individual pieces of legislation. McConnell’s reputation as a master of the legislative process is so large that it was a shock to many — including, presumably, President Donald Trump — that he proved so incompetent in ushering a repeal and replacement of Obamacare through the upper chamber.

Regardless of that failure, it remains true that McConnell’s reputation as a long-standing member of the Senate rests more on his skill as a politician than in his beliefs. Many senators become associated with one issue or another: Elizabeth Warren with consumer protection and John McCain with a robust foreign policy and a strong military, come to mind. But, not McConnell, except in one area: Opposition to campaign finance reform.

McConnell has long maintained that limits on campaign spending, by individuals or corporations, amount to restrictions on free speech and, thus, are a violation of First Amendment guarantees. In 2003, McConnell lent his name to a lawsuit (McConnell v. Federal Election Commission) in which the Supreme Court upheld the McCain-Feingold Act banning certain types of campaign donations.

McCain-Feingold subsequently was overturned by the Supreme Court in its 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, which led to the creation of super PACS, political organizations entitled to raise unlimited amounts of undisclosed “dark” money. When Democrats tried, two years later, to require corporations and unions to disclose their spending on political advertising, McConnell responded, in a speech before the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, “Government-compelled disclosure of contributions… is far more dangerous than its proponents are willing to admit.” Disclosure, he went on to say, “is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies.”

Now, it could be argued that Mitch McConnell, a Republican, dislikes limits on campaign spending because Republicans — as the party of the wealthy — benefit more than Democrats from big money in politics. That proposition may or may not be true, but let us give McConnell the benefit of the doubt and concede that on campaign finance reform, at least, he holds principled convictions. Let us also, for the sake of argument, overlook the corrupting influence of money in politics, a problem ignored by McConnell and his allies, including a majority on the Supreme Court. The legal system has tended to view corruption as an exchange of cash for a vote, what can be called “quid pro quo corruption,” ignoring the influence on policy of large sums of money coming from one source, or a few sources, with a specific ideological perspective and the possibility that money enables the use of public office for private ends and enrichment (viz., President Trump and the emoluments clause).

Regardless of the sincerity of McConnell’s convictions, what is most interesting in 2017, a year or so before the mid-term elections that will determine control of Congress, is the possible result of McConnell’s opposition to campaign finance reform. In an instance of “be careful what you ask for, because you might get it,” McConnell may be on the cusp of losing his position as Senate majority leader because of unlimited campaign spending or find that being majority leader does not amount to controlling the Senate.

For a variety of reasons — mostly stemming from the fractious nature of Republican politics and the divisive influence of Donald Trump — establishment Republicans, McConnell’s kind of Republicans, are under attack. In Alabama, Luther Strange, appointed to the Senate when Jeff Sessions became attorney general, is in danger of being defeated by Roy Moore, a very untraditional Republican politician, in a runoff election on September 26. As the elected chief of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore gained fame for twice defying court orders to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from a public space and refusing to allow same-sex marriages. Strange is the choice of the Republican establishment, including McConnell and, officially, Trump, but polls show Moore in the lead. McConnell is too astute not to know that Moore would not be a contented member of the Republican caucus in the Senate.

The prospects are worse for McConnell in a number of Senate races next year. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, a vocal critic of President Trump, is being challenged by former state senator Kelli Ward, a far right-winger who already has received $300,000 from the wealthy Mercer family. The Mercers also have contributed $50,000 to an archconservative in Mississippi who may challenge incumbent Senator Roger Wicker.

Republican incumbents in the Senate (and the House, too) who are loyal to McConnell (and Speaker Paul Ryan) face the potential of well-financed primary campaigns. While any Republican is likely to win in Alabama and Mississippi, the changing demographics and politics of Arizona endanger the chances of a far-right candidate who wins in a bruising primary battle. Remember the fate of far-right Republicans like Todd Akin in Missouri, Richard Murdock in Indiana, and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, all of whom defeated more centrist primary opponents only to lose winnable seats in the general elections.

McConnell may find that a sufficient number of his senatorial GOP allies are challenged by well-financed right-wing primary opponents to cost Republicans control of the Senate in 2018. And, even in cases where a right-wing Republican triumphs, as is possible with Roy Moore in Alabama, the result could be a senator who is not easily swayed by McConnell’s control of the GOP caucus. Mitch, you should’ve been careful what you asked for, because getting it could result in your ouster as majority leader. And, even if Republicans remain in control of the Senate, you may preside over a caucus even harder to control than the current one. Have fun, Mitch!

Posted September 19, 2017


What Do They Do Now?

Remember that telling last scene in The Candidate, when the newly elected senator from California, played by Robert Redford, says to his campaign manager, “Marvin, what do we do now?”

With a change in pronoun, it’s a question voters might be asking Republicans now that the party controls the Senate and has an even larger majority in the House.

Republican candidates for office provided little clue as to their goals. “This is not the time to lay out an agenda,” Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said four days before the election. On another occasion the likely new majority leader said, “It’s never a good idea to tell the other side what the first play is going to be.”

That’s true of football coaches and politicians who are selling ideas rejected by the voters, as are Republicans. An increase in the minimum wage — which congressional Republicans have repeatedly blocked — passed by huge two-to-one margins wherever it was on the ballot, including in die-hard red states Alaska, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Arkansas. Exit polls showed voters endorsing Democratic positions on climate change, immigration, abortion, same-sex marriage, and health care.

So why did the Republicans do so well Tuesday? No doubt the single biggest reason is the current standing of President Obama in public opinion polls. His unpopularity, some of it due to his standoffishness and seeming lack of passion, some of it due to things beyond his control, undermined the entire Democratic electoral effort. The Democrats always figured to do poorly in 2014: First, the electoral map favored the GOP, with far more Democratic than Republican seats up for reelection in the Senate; second, the traditional dip for the party of the president in his sixth year meant inevitable losses; and, third, the usual low turnout in midterm elections gave an edge to Republicans.

But the shellacking (to borrow a word the president used in 2010) was far worse than expected or predicted. The renewed terrorist threat from ISIS, the spread of Ebola (modest as the numbers have been in this country), the sense among voters that an improving economy was improving for someone else, and the overwhelming belief that Washington is broken all conspired to render the president unpopular and poison the electorate against his party. Never mind that Republican contributions to gridlock exceed the president’s and his party’s; when things don’t work, the president gets the blame.

The Republicans played their hand well. They avoided running the kind of whack jobs, like Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Christine O’Donnell, and Sharron Angle, who torpedoed their efforts in the last two electoral cycles. The Republican establishment poured the necessary resources into Mississippi to insure that incumbent senator Thad Cochran defeated tea party-darling Chris McDaniel in the GOP primary. In Colorado, party regulars persuaded moderate-sounding Cory Gardner (who repudiated his support for a personhood amendment, sort of) to run for the Senate instead of ultra-conservative Ken Buck, who lost a Senate bid four years ago.

While Republicans managed to keep the kookiest candidates off the ballot this year, they did it largely by moving the party to the right. The tea party may have taken a hit operationally, but ideologically the faction’s ultra-right message went mainstream within the GOP.

Many of the new faces in the Senate and the House are on the far right, which will make governing more difficult for Republican congressional leaders. Mitch McConnell will soon find out that the only thing more difficult to manage than a Republican minority is a Republican majority. (Just ask John Boehner. His problems may have gotten even worse with the election of newer, more conservatives members of the House. And he won’t have Eric Cantor around.)

Texas Senator Ted Cruz — bolstered by the presence of new rightwing senators — is likely to be a thorn in McConnell’s (right) side. McConnell may be sincere in promising no more government shutdowns and in vowing not to use the debt ceiling for political purposes, but there’s no guarantee Cruz will agree. If Cruz pushes the agenda to the right, that will turn off senators like Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, both of whom are up for reelection in 2016 in politically moderate states. Portman and Toomey won’t want to appear before their constituents saddled with Cruz’s hardline position on immigration and his promise to abolish the EPA and the Education Department.

And then there are the myriad Republican senators jockeying for a run at the presidency. All of the putative candidates will have their own agendas; they will be reluctant step in line behind McConnell’s goals, whatever those may be.

McConnell will find out, as has Boehner, that governing is the hard part. The problem for Republicans is that this time they are in the majority and, since Obama won’t be running in 2016, they will get the blame for Washington dysfunction.

That might make Hillary Clinton the ultimate winner. Assuming she runs and snares the Democratic nomination, she can wage a campaign against a do-nothing Congress.

Posted November 7, 2014


Republican Civil War

Imagine this: Karl Rove, alias “Turd Blossom” in George W. Bush’s infelicitous phrase, on his white horse riding to the rescue of the Republican Party.

Only the Republican Party does not want to be rescued.

Rove, of course, hardly seems to fit the image of the GOP’s White Knight, given his track record in the 2012 elections in which the former Bush adviser separated more than $300 million dollars from Republican donors, only to see most of his candidates lose. According to the Sunlight Foundation, Rove’s two super PACs earned a one percent and a 14 percent return on investment.

Rove’s big money backers are used to a better return on their money than that.

But a lack of chutzpah has never been a Rovian fault, so Rove has donned his armor and girded for battle again, this time forming a new super Pac, the Conservative Victory Project, pledged to enter Republican primaries in 2014 to support “electable” candidates.

Rove has a point: There is no question that being what Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal calls “the stupid party” cost Republicans a number of Senate seats in the last two elections. Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akin in Missouri snatched defeat from the jaws of victory last year by their bizarre and ill-informed comments on rape, and two years earlier, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada, among others, squandered excellent Republican chances to win.

Primaries rather than general elections are often the main event these days, given the distribution of the current electorate. Primaries place a premium on the participation of committed voters, who frequently are politically extreme. The result for the GOP is an ideologically pure candidate who can’t win the general election.

Rove wants to change that. He claims he merely wants to better position the Republican Party: “This is not tea party versus establishment. I don’t want a fight.”

Yet a fight he has, with tea party leaders and media commentators pushing back, saying Rove and his allies the GOP establishment are the problem, not the solution.

The fissures are deep. According to David Bossie, president of the conservative group Citizens United, the civil war in the Republican Party has begun. “This battle,” he says, “will be a long, hard slog against the establishment.”

And Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, the ultraconservative organization that has backed many right-wing primary candidates, says: “It’s those pesky voters. They get to decide who the nominee is.” And in primaries, the nominees often is on the far right of the political spectrum.

Stephen Law, who will run Rove’s latest effort, counters: “There is a broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected. We don’t view ourselves as being in the incumbent protection business, but we want to pick the most conservative candidate who can win.”

Some in the GOP claim the problem isn’t too conservative candidates or candidates not conservative enough, but rather a failure to reach voters with the proper message. Tweak the message by removing the rough edges, so the argument goes, but leave the core arguments intact, and Republicans will win.

It’s an argument that may explain Marco Rubio’s rising star. The junior senator from Florida has been selected to give the response this evening to President Obama’s State of the Union Address because he’s Hispanic, favors some kind of immigration reform, and is an articulate spokesman. And oh, yes, he’s a tea party darling who hans’t alienated the establishment.

All of which ignores what recent elections have shown: Voters no longer are buying what Republicans are selling. The problem for the GOP isn’t the message; it’s the product.

It’s only going to get worse. Demography reveals part of the GOP’s problem: A failure to attract Hispanics, the nation’s fastest growing segment. And now polls show that young voters embrace the Democratic view of the proper size and scope of the federal government. A New York Times/CBS News poll reveals that 59 percent of Americans aged 18-29 believe government should do more to solve problems, while only 35 percent of those over 65 agree on the role of government.

That doesn’t auger well for a party favoring limited government.

Posted February 12, 2013

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

“We must stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican party that talks like adults. It’s time for us to articulate our plans and visions for America in real terms. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. We’ve had enough of that.”

Those are the widely reported remarks of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in a speech last week to the Republican National Committee in Charlotte, North Carolina.

For Republicans, Jindal’s advice is sound. Unfortunately, it’s not likely to be heeded. It’s just too easy to be stupid.

Jindal is a case in point. The governor signed into law in 2008 a statute allowing local school boards to approve supplemental classroom materials specifically chosen as critiques of scientific theories. The measure is selective, referring specifically to scientific theories such as “evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” (It’s an odd list: Human cloning is not a theory.)

The bill is a backdoor attempt, promulgated by the Discovery Institute, to introduce the teaching of “intelligent design” under the guise of “academic freedom.” Jindal, who majored in biology at Brown University, ignored a veto plea from his former genetics professor. Seventy-four Nobel laureates in the sciences have signed a letter urging the Louisiana legislature to repeal the law.

Jindal has given no evidence that he has become smart enough to urge repeal, and no doubt he had others in mind when he referred to “the stupid party,” especially those senatorial candidates, such as Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by their “offensive and bizarre” remarks on rape.

The Louisiana governor must also have been thinking of less-than-clever 2010 Republican senate candidates in Delaware, Colorado, and Nevada, all of whom had a shot at winning, and if they had, and if Akin and Mourdock had triumphed, there now would be a 50-50 split in the Senate.

Jindal also may have been musing on upcoming Senate races, worrying about Lindsay Graham in South Carolina and Lamar Alexander in Tennessee, reliably conservative incumbents facing possible challenges from the tea party right. And no doubt he had Georgia on the mind, since conservative Saxby Chambliss stepped aside rather than risk a right-wing challenge from Representative Paul Broun, who sits on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and who has called evolution and the Big Bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell.”

On the subject of Broun and stupidity, the Georgia legislator recently said, “I think the only Constitution that Barack Obama upholds is the Soviet constitution, not this one.” Would someone please inform the congressman that the Soviet Union dissolved more than two decades ago?

Urgent calls from Bobby Jindal and others for the Republican Party to stop being “stupid” are not likely to be heeded as long as extremists dominate the primary process in conservative states, forcing the party to nominate candidates who cannot win in the general election.

As Forrest Gump learned from his mother, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Posted January 29, 2013

The New Stalinists

  • “I have a mind-set that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.” Richard Mourdock, Republican Senate candidate from Indiana.
  • Bipartisan: Of, relating to, or involving members of two parties; specifically: marked by or involving cooperation, agreement, and compromise between two major political parties.” Merriam-Webster.

Richard Mourdock’s definition of bipartisan is a disturbing example of what can be called the neo-Stalinism now infecting the Republican far right: The tendency to stigmatize opponents as mortal enemies with whom any cooperation is not only impossible but a sign of selling out on principles.

To be sure, Republicans are doctrinally at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Josef Stalin. But while their ends differ, the means are all too similar.

It’s difficult to know why Indiana voters favored Mourdock over Richard Lugar, the incumbent six-term senator. Voters may well have tired of Lugar, a resident of McLean, Virginia, who apparently did not have a physical home in Indiana.

Still, Murdock’s television ads accusing Lugar of sinning by cooperating with President Obama seemed to strike a chord with Indianians. “The time for being collegial is past,” Mourdock told The New York Times. “It’s time for confrontation.”

Former President Bill Clinton labels such views “disturbing.” The notion that “we just have to keep fighting till somebody wins it all,” Clinton said, means “there would have never been a Constitution, there never would have been a Bill of Rights, the Capitol would never have been moved to Washington, D.C., the federal government would not have assumed the debts of the colonies from the Revolutionary War, and nothing else would have happened.”

Scholars agree. Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute label the Republican Party “an insurgent outlier in American politics…. Ideologically extreme [and] scornful of compromise.”

National Republican leaders adopted confrontation over compromise the moment Barack Obama became president. The GOP denied the new president the traditional honeymoon and voted unanimously in the House against the new administration’s stimulus package, even though the bill included huge tax cuts designed to appeal to Republicans. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell made it clear his single legislative priority is insuring that Barack Obama is a one-term president.

Just this week House Speaker John Boehner again threatened to bring the nation’s economy to default by refusing to raise the federal debt ceiling without major spending cuts, even though Republicans categorically won’t agree to Democratic requests for modest tax increases as a tool toward reducing the deficit. Boehner’s insistence that Congress agree to everything the GOP wants, while not compromising at all with Democrats, comes as Republicans try to amend the cuts agreed to last summer when members of the party initially threatened to let the nation default. “It’s pretty galling for Speaker Boehner to be laying down demands for another debt ceiling agreement when he won’t even abide the last one,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

The neo-Stalinists on the far right are willing to threaten the nation’s stability to achieve political victory. It’s rule-or-ruin, and it means nothing will get done in Washington as long as Republicans subscribe to Richard Mourdock’s definition of bipartisanship.

Posted May 18, 2012