Foust: A Man with a Real Job

Cosmo – the magazine which proves that reading doesn’t have to expand your mind – endorsed candidate John Foust for Congress in Virginia’s 10th district. Foust, of course, is known for pooh-poohing his opponent’s experience, while using his government office building to film his campaign ads.

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GOP 2014: Conservative Candidates, Moderate Tone

Today’s New York Times piece on Republican primary battles leads with Art Halvorson, the father of a former colleague who is running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s heavily Republican 9th District.  His opponent is incumbent Rep. Bill Shuster, who holds the seat his father held before him.  While much of the article falls into the oversimplified “Tea-Party-Versus-Establishment” narrative, Halvorson rejects the opportunity to bang the drum on more red meat issues, favoring a more populist tone:

“People don’t remember a time before the Shusters,” Mr. Halvorson said. “They created an aristocracy, and people are so accustomed to that’s the way politics is done around here, they don’t see how he can be toppled. I’ve got to show leadership’s what’s important, not seniority, and longevity is not leadership.” … “That’s the narrative everybody wants to know: What’s the Republican Party going to look like after Ted Cruz Tea Party people get done with it?” Mr. Halvorson asked, eschewing the Tea Party label even as he adopts many of its campaign tropes. 

Tea Party themes – less government, more freedom, less concentration of power – are more popular than the Tea Party label.  Candidates like Halvorson are wise to make their campaigns about ideas, rather than shorthand.

How the GOP won yesterday (and why Chris Cillizza is wrong)

filibusterChris Cillizza argues that Sen. Rand Paul’s Freebird routine on the Senate floor last night was not a slam dunk win for Republicans.  (Lindsay Graham and John McCain, both apparently still Senators, agree.)  Cillizza’s points are mostly valid, but also mostly incorrect.

Point 1: Obama is now the tough on terror guy.

The basic point is wrong; President Obama became the tough on terror guy when Seal Team 6 successfully carried out his order to put a bullet between Osama bin Laden’s eyes.  But setting that aside, Cillizza suggests that opposing drone strikes could put Republicans in the same camp as anti-war liberals were about 10 years ago.

Democrats were perceived as weak on terror not just because they opposed the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but because they didn’t speak out one way or another for several years.  In 2003 everyone was a hawk except for Howard Dean; Hillary Clinton’s early support of the war was one issue that Barack Obama would use to pry away support during the 2008 primaries.

There’s another side to it, too: If you are going to oppose the policies of the War on Terror as a government official, you can hold press conferences, ask pointed questions at committee hearings, speak out at in-district town meetings, or engage in a host of other tactics that involve you talking.  While a sitting President and his administration can talk about their policies while killing terrorists, a sitting Senator can basically just talk.  So if talking is your only weapon, it has to be some pretty dramatic talking or you seem wimpy by default.  A filibuster works because it is definitely not the same as pointed hearing questions or town meeting blather.

Finally, while Cillizza correctly notes that drone are popular, they are popular because they Americans out of harms way.  There’s some space for moral high ground in saying those drones should not be aimed at Americans.

A definitive and unique stand like Paul’s is not a wishy-washy or knee-jerk opposition to the concept of war, but a strong and considered statement against a policy that infringes on civil liberties.

Point 2: Republicans are (still) afraid of the primary electorate.

After starting out on his own, Paul had some friends join him on the floor – including Republicans up for reelection in 2012 and a couple of 2016 Presidential contenders.  Was this a matter of pandering to tea partiers?

It’s hard to call it pandering when most of the people who joined Paul – such as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee – were elected on the wave of conservative activism that has marked Republican primaries of the last three years.  Primary voters have favored candidates who stood up for individual rights and limited government.  Is it a big surprise that these people oppose a government killing its own citizens without a trial?

The continued fundamental misunderstanding of so-called “tea party conservatives” is amazing, especially from political press that ought to know better.  Voters of any stripe want strong leaders – people who can stand up for strongly-held values without sounding crazy.

Point 3: It’s the economy, stupid.

First off, can we retire this now 21-year-old phrase?

Second, this quote makes this point a bit flawed:

And, in case you forgot, the [Republican] party still lacks a big-picture vision on the way forward regarding the country’s debt and spending issues that goes beyond simply saying: “No new taxes”.

That’s funny, because Paul Ryan’s 99-page Path to Prosperity isn’t just the words “no new taxes” written over and over like the manuscript in The Shining.  Also, terms like “reducing spending” and “entitlement reform” have been bandied about by Republicans.  Conversely, Democrat solutions seem to hinge on “new taxes.”

Point 4: DC process = not good.

That’s true – but a filibuster is hardly routine DC process.  Voting against cloture is a process.  Supporting a poison pill amendment is process.  But some dude talking for 13 hours to kill time and eating a Kit Kat bar?  It’s probably not the most interesting thing in the world, but it sure isn’t ordinary.  Jimmy Stewart’s filibuster was the climax of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (just as it was in Mel Gibson’s remake).

It was a public, and coherent, display of a small government school of conservatism that helped the Republicans take the House in 2010 and will be the bedrock of future success.  It won’t win him the Presidential nomination in 2016, nor will it solve all the Republican party’s electoral problems of the 2012 cycle.  But Paul’s rant might help the party start to find it’s voice again – which is a big and important step.

Boehner rejects technology. Good for him.

In a minor story this week, Speaker John Boehner rejected CSPAN’s request to install robotic cameras in the House of Representatives.  In doing so, Boehner follows in the footsteps of previous Speakers – and makes the right decision.

CSPAN wanted the cameras to spice up their coverage of the US House – capturing wide shots of the arena and getting reaction shots from Members of Congress who aren’t speaking at a certain time.

If you want an example of what such a broadcast might look like, the Super Bowl kicks off in a few hours.  If Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger throws an interception, Fox’s cameras will capture them on the sideline, shaking their heads or talking to coaches.  If a kicker – whatever their names are – misses a field goal, you’ll see the typical lingering shot of them staring at the goalposts and shaking their heads, followed (or preceded) by a shot of the coach looking at the kick, preparing to raise his arms before dejectedly slumping his shoulders.  When a defensive player blows a coverage, you’ll see his coach glaring at him from the sideline.

Fox isn’t just broadcasting the game, they are telling a story.  It’s one reason why sports is interesting to watch, and CSPAN wants to do the same.

But if CSPAN is telling a story about Congressional debate, who gets to write it?  And why stop at jumping around during floor debates?  Why not give individual Representative theme music and bring in Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler to add commentary, WWE style?

The extra cameras that Boehner rejected would have allowed CSPAN to create their own filter of the coverage, instead of simply showing the debate.  Yes, it’s dull, but CSPAN isn’t supposed to be engaging all the time – it’s supposed to be a stream of raw information.

Bawling Boehner could learn from the Boss

The new Speaker of the House has an image problem.  After weeping in an election night victory speech and again in a 60 Minutes interview, John Boehner again shed tears when taking the gavel from Nancy Pelosi.  Now an established pattern, Boehner’s tears have David Letterman wondering if he’s on drugs.  Others simply wonder if this is the new status quo of American politics.  Either way, being “the guy who cries a lot” is a pretty open invitation to the brand of ridicule that would diminish a message.

Boehner might find some inspiration from a fellow Ohioan, the late George Steinbrenner.

In 1990, Steinbrenner appeared on Saturday Night Live during his commissioner-ordered sabbatical from baseball.  In one memorable sketch, The Boss played a convenience store owner who refused to fire employees, no matter how much they underperformed:

Where is it written if you don’t get results right away, you fire people? How would you like it everytime something went wrong, I just blamed you, the supervisor, huh? Let’s just fire the supervisor! Then I’ll hire some other guy, and something would go wrong and I’d fire him, and I’d probably rehire you!Then fire you again, bring in someone else, then fire him and rehire you again! Then fire and hire, back and forth until the whole thing’s just a big joke! Is that the kind of owner you want? Some yammering nincompoop in a fancy suit? No way you take that road, ’cause before you know it, you’ll probably be banned from running the entire company!

Three years later, Steinbrenner was back in baseball, but his self-deprecating sense of humor remained sharp.  He played himself in the 1994 movie The Scout, and filmed an unaired cameo for Seinfeld.  His public criticism of Billy Martin and Derek Jeter both became tongue-in-cheek commercials, nearly three decades apart.  The results of this were last year’s kind eulogies, which forgave many of his faults.

So what does that mean for the Weeper of the House?  Boehner would be wise to aggressively embrace self-deprecating right away – diminishing both his tendency to cry and his critics’ tendency to make a big deal of it.

The Politics of Public Comments

The White House’s Open Government Initiative – President Barack Obama’s directive to for more transparency and public involvement in the often-arcane machinations of the Executive Branch – celebrates its first birthday today. The initiative’s first year has been largely overshadowed by legislative fights, but the real test will come in 2011 – when the Obama Administration likely becomes the Ministry of Regulation.

The President faces a split Congress in 2011, and lawmaking wasn’t all that easy when he had strong majorities in both Houses. Beyond that, he faces the dual risks of losing his far-left base and alienating the middle by allowing the Republicans to play some offense with their House majority. Of course, any revolutionary bill passed by a Republican House will be shot down by the Democratic Senate – and then the Democrats become the sideline-sitting, Slurpee-sipping, “Party of No” just in time for the 2012 election – freeing them up to hand down edicts on everything from internet regulation to carbon emissions.

What is a President to do?

The answer lies in the alphabet soup of agencies throughout the Executive branch, including such classics as the FCC, the FTC, the SEC, and everyone’s favorite, the EPA. Each has regulatory authority delegated from Congress. And, unlike the President’s allies in Congress, bureaucrats will not have to face voters in 2012.

Regulatory agencies are not immune to public input, but they sure can make it a challenge.

For instance, anyone who has been involved in a land use issue which included federal oversight knows the mass of documents required. Each document (along with draft, final, and supplemental versions) must have its own public comment period, where citizens can submit their thoughts.

In theory, that should mean more avenues for input; in practice it is confusing and redundant. Making the process more complex is the fact that each agency may count comments differently; a regulator has the discretion to decide if a comment should be dismissed for being immaterial. Individual bureaucrats have tremendous interpretive power over the public input that crosses their desk.

Is the grassroots wave against big government – and the nascent GOP House majority they produced – already backed into a corner? Far from it.

The American people haven’t fallen back in love with Washington quite yet, so the electorate is likely to listen to the case against shadow laws via bureaucracy. Grassroots activists should participate in comment periods whenever they can – and make sure elected policymakers get a copy of the same letter or message that went to the regulators. (It isn’t as much fun as a protest or an angry phone call to your local Congressional office, but it’s still important.)

House Republicans can and will schedule oversight hearings. These hearings should include scrutiny over public participation opportunities Members of Congress should hold regulators accountable for providing opportunities for public access to the process – and for being receptive to the will of the people.

The Administration, which so dearly values open government, will be happy to comply – right?

Cross-posted at Pundit League.