Ted Frier

Ted Frier
April 02
Ted Frier is an author and former political reporter turned speechwriter who at one time served as communications director for the Massachusetts Republican Party, helping Bill Weld become the first Bay State Republican in a generation to be elected Governor. He was Chief Speechwriter for Republican Governor Paul Cellucci and Lt. Governor Jane Swift. Ted is also the author of the hardly-read 1992 history "Time for a Change: The Return of the Republican Party in Massachusetts." So, why the current hostility to the Republican Party and what passes for conservatism today? The Republican Party was once a national governing party that looked out for the interests of the nation as a whole. Now it is the wholly-owned subsidiary of self interest. Conservatism once sought national unity to promote social peace and harmony. Now conservatism has devolved into a right wing mutation that uses divide and conquer tactics to promote the solidarity of certain social sub-groups united against the larger society while preserving the privileges of a few.


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MAY 1, 2012 10:36AM

Republicans Running Away From Their Own Party

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There are lots and lots of Republicans being thrown under Scott Brown's campaign bus for US Senate.  

I've just come back from a luncheon where Brown was guest speaker and I am here to report that no one is running further or faster away from the Republican Party than the Junior Senator from Massachusetts.

In a rambling, attention deficit disordered address to several hundred of Boston's biggest movers and shakers, Senator Brown used the words "independent" and "bipartisan" easily as often as he did "Massachusetts" and "me."  

In what may have come as a surprise to many of the old Republican hands I recognized in the room from our days together at the GOP state committee and in past Republican administrations, Brown actually bragged that he'd voted with Mitch McConnell's GOP leadership just half the time - a figure I somehow doubted but which was telling nonetheless for what it says about Senator Brown's belief he must keep the Republican Party at arm's length if he's to have any chance at all of being reelected.

Brown even bragged his lack of partisanship had earned him a presidential invitation to the Obama White House so that he could take part in a signing ceremony for bills he'd co-sponsored that somehow managed to survive the 60-vote super-majority barricade his Republican comrades have made the new normal in the United States Senate.

Brown's dilemma in his run against working-class advocate Elizabeth Warren is not unlike the challenge facing Republican professionals and conservative intellectuals everywhere as they seek in vain to separate themselves from the right wing reactionary monster they've created.

Just as the Tea Party movement was largely a branding effort of far right Republicans trying to sail away as fast as their little lifeboats would take them from a foundering Republican brand taking on water after eight long years of George W. Bush's epic ineptitudes, conservative spin doctors are now furiously rushing the Republican Party into rhetorical trauma rooms in a frenzied effort to save the GOP from its own self-inflicted wounds.

Political damage control, just like real surgery, consists in cutting away the sickly parts of a living, breathing body (or body politic) in order to save whatever else might remain.

Yet, in the meat-ball surgery now being performed by conservative intellectuals on the disease-riddled Republican carcass, it's not at all clear how much of the GOP will be left once the party's publicists get through with their battlefield amputations.

In a Washington Post op-ed this weekend, for instance, Evil Republican Word Wizard Frank Luntz performed another of his patented acts of rhetorical legerdemain in order to make the plutocratic and Tea Party-soaked GOP magically disappear.

Luntz pulled off this amazing feat of prestidigitation by arguing that: Republicans are not against big government at all, just wasteful, inefficient government. Republicans are not against immigrants just "illegal" ones.  Republicans are not for Wall Street and big corporations but rather Main Street and mom and pop "entrepreneurs." Republicans are not for "capitalism" but for "economic freedom." Conservatives are not "ideological" but "pragmatic" reformers who don't want to "eliminate" Social Security and Medicare only make it "work better" by "increasing patient choice" and hospital "competition." Republicans care about the wage gap and inequality, too, but unlike liberals they want to make the poor less poor by giving them "opportunity" not make the rich less rich by "redistributing" their "success" to the "undeserving."

Oh, and did I mention that Republicans are for apple pie and motherhood, too?

This is classic Frank Luntz: Take a complex political and policy challenge -- such as how America will re-adjust itself to a global economy that allows a small super-class at the top to exploit to its own advantage the unstructured and unregulated nature of our new way of living. Then, distill the issue down into a collection of homey virtues that no one contests, such as the importance of honesty, hard-work, accountability, freedom, self-reliance, initiative and patriotism. And finally, make the cynical argument that all these values line up on your side of the aisle but not on theirs, whether the shoe actually fits or not.

On the same day and on the same page, Washington Post conservative Michael Gerson said this about the modern Conservative Movement: "On one side there are Rejectionist Conservatives, who come in a variety of forms. There are libertarians who view federal taxation, except to fund a few night-watchman roles, as theft. There are tea party activists who believe that any federal power must be specifically enumerated in the Constitution - and then interpret the Constitution as if it were the Articles of Confederation. And then there is Ron Paul, who seeks to overturn the Lincoln and Hamilton revolutions."

Having implicated virtually every faction of the current conservative coalition, Gerson's attempt to hack down to the solid, healthy core of what he now wants to call "Reform Conservatism" leaves most of the  real Conservative Movement writhing on the cutting room floor.

"Reform" conservatism is a phenomenon Michael Gerson desperately wants us to believe really exists - one that he says is "less ideologically ambitious" than the conservatism we encounter on Fox News every day -- and more pragmatic, too.

Rather than abolishing Obamacare, for example, Gerson says conservative "reformers" would simply "replace it" - just like reformers would not "demolish" the Education Department but would instead "focus on school accountability, parental empowerment and teacher quality."

As the one-time ventriloquist for George W. Bush, Gerson and his "Reform Conservatism" sound suspiciously to me like a reincarnation of the "Compassionate Conservatism" that Gerson and his friends once used to sneak a true-believing, far right extremist past us before.

The key particulars of Gerson's Reform Conservatism are not hard to summarize:

First, he says, America's massive fiscal crisis is a result of public-sector inefficiency, so conservative reformers are looking for ways to "achieve the ends of the welfare state both through more private means and more efficient public means."

Second, says Gerson, America's economic problems are also a function of public-sector inefficiency (not financial sector chicanery at all) and so the solutions must encourage private sector growth -- "by streamlining the tax code, reducing burdens on competitiveness and showing confidence in market mechanisms and consumer pressure."

And finally, says Gerson, Reform Conservatism argues that America's "social problem" is largely the fault of the poor themselves, or as he puts it, "a function of the collapse of social capital among the poor," whose solution is to "transform the safety net by encouraging responsibility and providing training toward integration in the broader stream of American life."

This would all be fine except for the fact Republicans are intent on cutting the poor adrift by sharply reducing, if not eliminating, the job training, college loans, health care, day care, education and other programs that help the poor make it on their own.

Gerson began his column with this bold assertion: "The past few years have been the most decisive and divisive ideological period since the early 1980s, perhaps since the late 1960s. Barack Obama has pursued Keynesian economics on a breathtaking scale, racking up three years of deficits in excess of a trillion dollars and presiding over a national credit downgrade. In a march of partisan votes, he passed a health-reform plan that relies on unprecedented federal powers to reorganize one-sixth of the economy."

Had Gerson's intention been more intellectually honest instead of corrupted in the service of right wing propaganda, he just as easily could have written the following lead:

"The past few years have been the most decisive and divisive ideological period since the early 1980s, perhaps since the late 1960s. The Republican Party has obstructed on a breathtaking scale the conventional practice (dating back nearly a century to the New Deal) of using Keynesian economics to combat periodic recessions, thus racking up three years of deficits in excess of a trillion dollars due to an ideological refusal on the part of the GOP to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

"Obama also presided over a national credit downgrade that was caused when a radicalized GOP spooked the capital markets by holding the nation's debt ceiling hostage for the first time in a century and threatening to throw the nation into bankruptcy unless their demands for draconian budget cuts were met.

"Democrats passed a health-reform plan based largely on a template provided by President Obama's presumptive Republican rival that was enacted into law when Mitt Romney was Governor of Massachusetts, but which nonetheless had to be passed on a Democrat-only party line vote at the national level because Republicans decided, for their own partisan reasons, it was better for them to attack their own well-known ideas as the Marxist-Leninist-Socialist reorganization of one-sixth of the economy."

Gerson says the details of Reform Conservatism are best expressed in the pages of the small right wing journal called National Affairs and in the person of House Republican budget chieftain Paul Ryan, who conservatives are endeavoring to rehabilitate and recast from Ayn Rand-idolizing ideologue into sensible and serious paragon of the Washington Establishment.

Yet, despite what Gerson would have us believe, Paul Ryan's so-called "Conservative Reform" agenda is not real because it is not meant to be. It's only meant to be "plausible."

Nor are Ryan's proposals meant to solve the problems the too-generous (or too cynical) Gerson says they do address. Instead, Ryan's proposals are meant to provide political cover so that the hard right can advance an agenda that privileges wealth while disregarding the poor but does so in ways that allow conservatives to screw the poor with a clear conscience.

That is why, for example, the very Catholic Paul Ryan feels himself perfectly qualified to lecture Catholic bishops on the true meaning of the Church's own social justice doctrine - saying, in essence, the Church hierarchy doesn't know what it's talking about when it accuses Ryan of making draconian cuts against the poor that are both immoral and un-Catholic.

With a straight face, Ryan tells the bishops he's not hurting the poor at all since by cutting their programs he is giving money to the rich that will be used to create new "opportunities" for the poor where none existed before.

This same ideologically self-indulgent logic applies to Ryan's attacks against Obama and the "fuzzy math" Ryan claims the President employs when Obama says there are only two ways to deal with deficits: Either by hurting the poor in ways that benefit the rich; or, by enacting a balanced program of tax hikes and budget cuts in which sacrifice and benefits are shared.

The real winning formula, says Ryan, is "responsible spending restraint" ("responsible" meaning 60% of burdens are borne by the poor), coupled with boilerplate supply-side mythology that tax cuts for the rich will raise revenues while promoting investment and growth.

But in the end, Paul Ryan doesn't care whether his budget really does raise revenues, or help or hurt the poor, or close the deficit or do any of the other wonderful things his "road map to the future" says it will do. Instead, Ryan only cares that his budget achieves what it does not advertise openly, which is to give right wing conservatives a plausible narrative they can use to do exactly what their ideological inclinations compel them to do anyway, but to do so without anyone being able to question their highly questionable motives.

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well-written on many levels and an informative read from one who has seen inside the belly of the beast.
They just can't quit blaming the poor for being poor. And even the thought that the country can no longer afford to be the world's cop is utterly beyond their imagination.

How long is this age of ideology going to turn democracy into a joke? I've read recently that a new consensus is forming in the academic world (which is riff with ideology and has been since the 60's.) that POLITICS is important, i.e. who you vote for and whether you vote matters.

And that is the best our so-called intellectual class can do despite the disparity in income and taxation that is undermining the nation's morale, and making cynicism and corrupt, inept politicians the norm. How long has it taken them to wake up?

In the short term, it won't hurt if the GOP and all the Scott Browns running for re-election are knocked out of the box, but the problem is greater than that, and spokesmen for a new way of looking at things are sorely needed.

THE GARDEN OF DEMOCRACY, is the latest book I've heard of that makes a contribution to the dialogue, rather than just taking sides in the polemics. More thinking, and less shouting and intimidation is long overdue.
Republican "reformers" can spin all they want and try to turn the basest metal into gold, but as you witnessed in the exchange on your last post, that message isn't going to sell on either the Right or the Left -- and there's not enough "middle" left in America to re-establish the once steady, tho stolid, GOP.

Indeed, it seems pretty obvious from primary polls, in which Mitt never rose above about 25% that the Party has moved on permanently from the pragmatic conservatism of Bush the Elder. Indeed, they don't even bother with the pretense of "compassionate conservatism" as voiced, but never practiced, by Bush the Least.

The proof of that last charge is the rabid mob attending the primary debates who cheered for simply letting people sick people die. Further evidence is in the embrace of Ryan Randism by every Republican member of the House and so-called mainstream candidate Mitt Romney.

This was all predictable, of course, which puts the lie to the "genius" label assigned to groveling, mayberry machiavelli Karl Turdblossom Rove, whose machinations were supposed to create a permanent Republican majority, but instead have driven that Party to the brink of irrelevance -- if not extinction.

I say predictable, because any fool should have known what would happen when the Republicans welcomed with open arms the disaffected Dixiecrats . They defection brought with them the racism and reactionary intransigence that hamstrung the Democratic Party for most of the first half of the last century.

Now, they and their Teapartian comrades in aims, have hamstrung the entire political process, turning the House into Animal House, with a host of wingnut political novices Speaker Boehner can't control, and that backstabbing Eric Cantor won't be able to control either. Meanwhile in the Senate, majority rule has been replaced by the mere threat of filibuster and what is clearly a case of the tyranny of the majority.

There's no pity in this corner for fools like Rove and Luntz who think they're smart, but who've been proven to be only smart-asses. Trapped in permanent petty political operative mode, they don't understand the most basic rule of politics: Power may be gotten with deviousness, but keeping it requires actually governing -- and that Republicans are no longer capable of thanks to being overrun by the ideological idiocracy.
obviously I meant to say tyranny of the minority
re ryan/rand, there was an interesting huffpost headline/article showing him now distancing himself from ayn rand. strange days indeed. it looks like the rightwing propaganda is finally running out of steam & they are scrambling for the next generation-- but maybe, thank god, its not gonna show up.

Thanks for the suggestion of "Gardens." Looks like just the kind of book I'd like -- one that attempts a synthesis of ideas merely than one that lines them up on opposing sides. That's been my expereince as I've been in, and moved away from, conservative politics -- that there are really large areas of overlap which tend to get separated for partisan purposes as the parties vie for power and use divide and conquer for their own purposes. You can't really blame them, though. Parties are after real voters and so don't really care about the integrity of ideas. But thinkers shouldn't allow ideas to get torn in two this way. That's what ideolgues are for! The idea of intellectual "standards," for example, and rules of evidence and argument. I always thought that was a conservative infatuation that goes along with the conservative's preference for predictability and order. But now you find support for such intellectual standards mostly in the "reality-based community" on the left, which is opposed by ends-justify-the-means conservatives. The book also has a pretty impressive list of "blurbs" as well, about half of whom I have read or read all the time -- Dionne, Tomasky, Fukyhama.
From distant Texas I'm following state politics in Wisconsin and Massachusetts with considerable interest. Your close-up perspective is appreciated. Wisconsin and Massachusetts are both tipping points this year, and their outcomes are crucial to all of us. Thanks for this.