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.