The Eroding GOP Base

Going back to Paul Krugman’s column — the professor writes about the fact that the GOP is hurting at campaign fund raising, in part because Republicans are losing the support of Big Corporations.

… it’s not surprising that lobbyists are casting in their lot with the likely winners. But that’s not the whole story.

There’s also disgust, even in the corporate world, with the corruption and incompetence of the Bush years. People on the left often describe the Bush administration as an agent of corporate America; that’s giving it too much credit.

The truth is that while the administration has lavished favors on some powerful, established corporations, the biggest scandals have involved companies that were small or didn’t exist at all until they started getting huge contracts thanks to their political connections. Thus, Blackwater USA was a tiny business until it somehow became the leading supplier of mercenaries for the War on Terror™.

And the lethal amateurishness of these loyal Bushies on the make horrifies the corporate elite almost as much as it horrifies ordinary Americans.

Last but not least, even corporations are relieved to see the end of what amounted to a protection racket.

In a classic 2003 article in The Washington Monthly, Nicholas Confessore (now at The New York Times) described the efforts of people like former Senator Rick Santorum to turn K Street into an appendage of the Republican Party — not the other way around. “The corporate lobbyists who once ran the show, loyal only to the parochial interests of their employer,” wrote Mr. Confessore, “are being replaced by party activists who are loyal first and foremost to the G.O.P.”

But corporations weren’t happy. According to The Politico, “many C.E.O.’s” used the term “extortion” to describe “the annual shakedowns by committee chairmen with jurisdiction over their industries.” And now that Mr. Santorum is out of office, heading the America’s Enemies program at a right-wing think tank, the faint sound you hear from K Street is that of lobbyists singing: “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.”

I looked up the Nicholas Confessore article Krugman cites. It’s called “Welcome to the Machine,” and it was published in the July/August 2003 issue of Washington Monthly. It’s actually kind of fun to read it now. Even though the Machine is far from being dismantled, it ain’t what it was in 2003. This part exemplifies what Krugman is talking about regarding extortion:

But the flip side of the deal is that trade associations and corporations are expected to back the party’s initiatives even on occasions when doing so is not in their own best interest. When Bush’s recently passed dividends tax cut proposal was first announced, the life insurance industry complained that the bill would sharply reduce the tax advantage of annuities sold by insurance companies, potentially costing them hundreds of millions of dollars. The industry’s lobbyists were told to get behind the president’s proposal anyway–or lose any chance to plead their case. So they did. In mid-March, Frank Keating, the head of the industry’s trade group and a close friend of Bush’s, hand-delivered a letter to the White House co-signed by nearly 50 CEOs, endorsing the president’s proposal while meekly raising the hope that taxes on dividends from annuities would also be included in the final repeal (which they weren’t). Those firms that didn’t play ball on Bush’s pan paid the price. The Electronic Industries Alliance was one of the few big business lobbies that declined to back the tax cut, in large part because the high-tech companies that make up a good portion of its membership don’t even issue dividends. As a result, the trade group was frozen out of all tax discussions at the White House.

And here’s the final paragraph:

A little over a century ago, William McKinley–Karl Rove’s favorite president–positioned the Republican Party as a bulwark of the industrial revolution against the growing backlash from agrarian populists, led by Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. The new business titans flocked to McKinley’s side, providing him with an extraordinary financial advantage over Bryan. McKinley’s victory in 1896 ushered in a long period of government largely by and for industry (interrupted briefly, and impermanently, by the Progressive Era). But with vast power came, inevitably, arrogance and insularity. By the 1920s, Republican rule had degenerated into corruption and open larceny–and a government that, in the face of rapidly growing inequality and fantastic concentration of wealth and opportunity among the fortunate few, resisted public pressure for reform. It took a few more years, and the Great Depression, for the other shoe to drop. But in 1932 came the landslide election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the founding of the very structure of governance today’s Republicans hope to dismantle. Who knows? History may yet repeat itself.

Where have you gone, Franklin Roosevelt?

I want to go back to the notion that the Bushies are agents of corporate America, verses the “lethal amateurishness of these loyal Bushies” apparent now even to CEOs. I think the Bushies saw themselves as agents of corporate America, people who would “run the government like a business,” to recall a popular phrase of the 1990s. When the Bush Administration began the Bushies were full of the conceit that they were so much more disciplined and business-like than the Clintons they could work regular “business” hours. James Carney and John F. Dickerson, CNN, March 12, 2001:

Bush’s take-it-slow-and-easy approach is yet another rebuke to his predecessor. Clinton came to office promising to work for the people “until the last dog dies.” In Clinton’s world, working hard meant exhausting yourself, something the President and his staff did regularly, especially in his first term, when leaving the White House before midnight was viewed as proof of a lack of commitment. Clinton’s sheer effort was a key part of his message.

Not so President Bush. “I don’t like to sit around in meetings for hours and hours and hours,” he told TIME during the campaign. “People will tell you, I get to the point.” Meetings should be crisp and should end with decisions. Talking matters less than doing. “People who make up Republican White Houses come from the business world and are used to a business-like routine: getting in early, getting it done and going home,” says Bush spokes-man Ari Fleischer. By contrast, he adds, Democrats tend to come from “the world of government service, which is much more hectic and much less disciplined.”

I wrote a post last year about what bullshit that turned out to be. But one of the funny things about the loyal Bushies is that most of ’em made their bones in government service, academia, rightie think tanks or the Republican Party itself. The few who were genuine businessmen — like the original Secretary of the Treasury, Paul Snow O’Neill — were the first to go. Even Dick the Dick, though he was a CEO of Halliburton, was reportedly not allowed to make operational decisions in that capacity. He was an asset to Halliburton mostly because of his extensive contacts in government and the military-industrial complex.

In other words, these guys were of the “business world” in the same way the 101st Fighting Keyboarders are “warriors” — make believe.

The GOP is also losing the support of conservative evangelicals. Michael D. Shear and Perry Bacon Jr. write in today’s Washington Post:

For months, Republican presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and John McCain have courted evangelical Christians, meeting with religious leaders throughout the Midwest and the South.

Today, thousands of Christian conservatives will gather in Washington to confront the fact that none of the candidates has won them over. …

… “At the moment, there’s nothing but confusion every place I go,” said Chuck Colson, who runs the Prison Fellowship, a national Christian ministry. “They lament the fact that there’s no one candidate out there around whom evangelicals and conservative Catholics can sort of coalesce around and get excited about.”

He added: “Nobody has rung the bell yet.”

Giuliani’s too socially liberal, Romney’s a Mormon and therefore not Christian enough, Thompson lost points when he refused to endorse a federal ban on same-sex marriage and flubbed a question about Terri Schiavo, McCain has some bad history with evangelical leaders. I suppose Ron Paul is too antiwar. Brownback, who dropped out of the race this week, is Catholic, and in spite of the evangelical-Catholic alliance on abortion there is still much anti-papist sentiment among evangelicals, I suspect.

That leaves Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, and Alan Keyes, all of whom seem tailor made for evangelicals as far as I can tell. Keyes won’t get the racist vote, so he’s out, but it’s not clear to me why evangelicals aren’t rallying around one of the other three. Huckabee in particular seems reasonably marketable, and he’s even an ordained Baptist minister. Yet the big guns on the Religious Right — James Dobson, Bob Jones III, Pat Robertson, etc. — are either withholding endorsement or have endorsed one of the unpalatable frontrunners.

Bulworth writes,

Not that I mind the fact that the Christian Fascists are splintered, unhappy and forming circular firing squads. But this media narrative that fails to critically assess just what it is that the evangelical, fundy right really wants is annoying. They have candidates. But those candidates are not doing well in general, and are mysteriously not getting attention and support from “values voters” in particular. Moreover, some, perhaps many, of the Christianist’s movers and shakers are affiliated with one of the more “establishment” candidates. What does that say about the so-called “values voters” and their leaders?

I’m not sure what’s going on either. Maybe the leadership is holding out for a higher bid — someone who will promise them more power and perks. It’s possible evangelicals are starting to feel jerked around by these clowns, and the “Christian coalition” itself is coming unglued. Not that I’d mind.

Update: See also Pastor Dan.

Randi Rhodes

I haven’t written anything before about Randi Rhodes’s unfortunate encounter with a New York City sidewalk, because I was waiting to find out what happened to her. The causes of the fall are still not clear. It is unfortunate that Jon Elliott and others assumed — based on very circumstantial evidence — that her injuries were due to a hate crime. It’s always galling to cede the moral high ground to righties, even for a little while, and the accusations fed the wingnuts’ victimization complex, which is bloated enough already.

However, the natural order of the universe is now restored. Righties are spreading the rumor — based on very circumstantial evidence — that Ms. Rhodes fell down because she was drunk. Those people couldn’t hang on to the moral high ground if you gave them a deed to it.

Update: Since righties tried to post more rumors about Ms. Rhodes’s phenomenal capacity for booze in the comments, I’m shutting them down.

Update 2: See also Ellen at News Hounds.

Update 3: See also Tbogg.

Out of the Fire, Into the Frying Pan

In his column today, Paul Krugman explains why the GOP is losing the support of Big Business and Big Corporations, and I’d like to comment on that later today. But here’s the down side —

According to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, in the current election cycle every one of the top 10 industries making political donations is giving more money to Democrats. Even industries that have in the past been overwhelmingly Republican, like insurance and pharmaceuticals, are now splitting their donations more or less evenly. Oil and gas is the only major industry that the G.O.P. can still call its own.

The sudden burst of corporate affection for Democrats is good news for the party’s campaign committees, but not necessarily good news for progressives. …

… Right now all the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination are running on strongly progressive platforms — especially on health care. But there remain real concerns about what they would actually do in office.

Here’s an example of the sort of thing that makes you wonder: yesterday ABC News reported on its Web site that the Clinton campaign is holding a “Rural Americans for Hillary” lunch and campaign briefing — at the offices of the Troutman Sanders Public Affairs Group, which lobbies for the agribusiness and biotech giant Monsanto. You don’t have to be a Naderite to feel uncomfortable about the implied closeness.

I’d put it this way: many progressives, myself included, hope that the next president will be another F.D.R. But we worry that he or she will turn out to be another Grover Cleveland instead — better-intentioned and much more competent than the current occupant of the White House, but too dependent on lobbyists’ money to seriously confront the excesses of our new Gilded Age.

Candidates Most Likely to Turn Into Grover Cleveland are, IMO, senators Clinton and Biden. Biden has little chance of being the nominee, however, so let’s talk about Senator Clinton.

Although I will support her if she’s the nominee, I’ve still got my fingers crossed that she isn’t. And I ask myself if I’m being unfair to her, or if I’ve been subliminally influenced by wingnut propaganda, and I honestly don’t think so. In fact, the animus the wingnuts have for her would tend to make me like her more, if anything.

A paragraph from a Gail Collins column (“None Dare Call It Child Care“), speaks volumes:

This is Hillary Clinton’s Women’s Week. On Tuesday, she gave a major speech on working mothers in New Hampshire, with stories about her struggles when Chelsea was a baby, a grab-bag of Clintonian mini-ideas (encourage telecommuting, give awards to family-friendly businesses) and a middle-sized proposal to expand family leave. Yesterday, she was in the company of some adorable 2- and 3-year-olds, speaking out for a bill on child care workers that has little chance of passage and would make almost no difference even if it did. Clinton most certainly gets it, but she wasn’t prepared to get any closer to the problems of working parents than a plan to help them stay home from work.

Clintonian mini-ideas! That should become an established catchphrase. Bill was good at those too, as I recall. Bill was a good manager and a political genius, but an FDR he was not.

But this is what I fear from a Hillary Clinton Administration: She’d be an effective manager of the office and certainly would patch up much of our soured international relations, but her domestic policy would amount to tweaks. And Big Business and Big Corporations would love her, for the obvious reasons, and the rest of us would benefit from the crumbs of whatever goodwill they feel moved to sprinkle upon us.

And if he’s still around, Ralph Nader would no doubt pick up votes in 2012.

I admit none of the nominees look like FDR to me, but Edwards and Dodd have the potential to be FDR Lite. It’s harder to say if Obama or Richardson would turn out to be other than corporate-sponsored tweakers. (I’m sorry to say that, for all his good intentions, I have major doubts about Kucinich’s management abilities, so I can’t take him seriously as a candidate. And I’m not entirely sure what planet Mike Gravel is from, although I’d love to have a beer with him.)

Eugene Robinson writes in his column today that lots of women across America are drawn to Clinton because she would be the first woman president. I wish I could share that excitement, but I don’t.

Update: Prairie Weather

The Democratic party is both empty and overbearing. It lacks, as Matt Bai pointed out, a central “argument,” a driving ethos, any social and political passion that relates to America’s needs. Rove-like, the party has come to depend on stealing some issues from the Republican right and to mimic the hopes and passions of its own left. But that leaves an empty center. Most Americans have not the slightest clue whether Democrats can be trusted to do any more than a little better than George W. Bush.

This was not always true of the Dems, mind, although you have to be damn old to remember when it wasn’t. I wrote about how the change came about in “How the Democrats Lost, Period.”