Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Earth to GOP: Branding Democrats as "Socialists" Is a Stupid and Futile Move

According to Politico, the RNC will hold an "extraordinary meeting" next week, during which it will officially decide to rebrand the Democratic Party as the "Democrat Socialist Party." The move strikes me as a stupid and futile strategy. RNC Chair Michael Steele agrees.

The Politico article, authored by Roger Simon, reports that Steele has condemned the move in a memorandum, which states that calling the Democrats socialists "will accomplish little [more] than to give the media and our opponents the opportunity to mischaracterize Republicans." But the anonymous RNC source for the article dismissed Steele's objection by asking: "Who cares?"

As one should suspect, conservatives in the party voted to hold the special session, which Steele also opposed. They had also planned to present a proposal publicly criticizing Olympia Snow, Arlen Specter, and Susan Collins, the only Republicans who voted for the stimulus package (Specter recently became a Democrat). But they decided to withdraw that proposal.

GOP's Directional Battle
Simon's article also blasts Steele's performance as RNC Chair. He has also written several other essays that criticize Steel. Furthermore, many conservatives within the Republican Party believe Steele is a bad choice and do not trust him.

Perhaps I favor underdogs, but I think that conservative criticism of Steele is misplaced. I suspect that Steele smartly understands that the RNC needs to modify its image by embracing more moderate stances on social and economic issues. Conservatives in the party vehemently oppose such a move.

But instead of rebranding the Democrats, the Republican Party needs to remake its own image. Many political opportunities exist for linking a more moderate agenda with conservative values. A conservative belief in limited government, for example, is perfectly consistent with support for gay rights, which include freedom from governmental discrimination and invasion of privacy. Indeed, when conservatives oppose affirmative action and welfare, they do so by invoking the rhetoric of "equality," "individualism," and the "free market." But they abandon these supposedly vital principles in order to justify discrimination against GLBT people. This is not a winning strategy in today's political climate.

In addition, fiscal conservatism should not necessarily lead to callousness. The RNC could actually beat the Democrats at their own game if they truly pushed the notion of equal educational opportunity for all children, including poor whites and persons of color. In the longterm the country will save money and have greater opportunities for innovation and efficiency if it has an educated population. Sending children of any race to decaying and underperforming schools is an American tragedy. Using vouchers and reforming public schools reflect conservative values because these policies prepare private citizens to exercise greater autonomy over their own lives and to contribute to society.

Center Versus Right
Steele has faced resistance when he takes moderate positions or criticizes the conservative base (a move which, admittedly, seems to require a healthy amount of political savvy). When Steele stated that having an abortion was an individual choice (which it is), the Right blasted him. When he seemed to advocate a neutral state regarding gay and lesbian relationships, the Right complained again. When Steele made the reasonable analysis that Mitt Romney's political flip-flopping and his religion might have cost him votes among conservatives, they screamed again.

Steele's plight as RNC Chair is symbolic of a larger directional struggle within the party. Many GOP members are demanding that the party create a more moderate image, while others believe the route to greater national power involves lurching even farther to the right.

Apparently, many Republicans fail to understand that political currents come, go and return. The "Party of Lincoln" freed the slaves and was, therefore, virtually nonexistent in the South after the end of Reconstruction. Following the 1960s civil rights and antipoverty reforms, the South gradually moved to the Republican Party, and the party moved increasingly to the right in national politics in order to secure the loyalty of heartland and southern conservatives.

Although I do not believe that social conservatism is dead, in terms of national politics, hard line conservatism is not a winning formula at the moment. The GOP can either sink or swim. Charlie Crist's run for Senate in the exceedingly purple state of Florida can serve as a model for GOP change. But early reports suggest that conservatives want to blast Crist as well. By engaging in a petty strategy to rename the Democrats as a socialist party and caging Steele and opposing all efforts to modify the party's platform, Republicans might have effectively made the choice to sink.

PS: I am a nonpartisan progressive. Thus, this is essay is not an anti-GOP hate piece. What do you think?

Update: After an exchange with a couple of readers, I have deleted references to Simon's ideology. Although I think he sits on the right, he also appears to be somewhat of an ideological opportunist (Translation: His views reflect the popularly held opinions of the moment).


Anonymous said...

Dear Prof. Hutchinson,

It will be interesting to see how Republicans from Michigan and elsewhere, who championed the government bailout of the auto industry, will respond. Will they demand federal capital to bolster private firms' bottom lines while simultaneously lamenting the Democrats' so-called "socialism"? Second, this rebranding effort may backfire if independents view it as political machination, which I view as likely. Third, this effort will be mercilessly mocked by comedians such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and maybe even David Letterman, as child-like behavior in the midst of the several crises we face. Given their cultural influence, these comedians' response could prove powerful. Fourth, this move casts serious doubt on the sincerity of Republican calls for bipartisanship. Finally, and most importantly, will Republicans be comfortable voting for bills written by the "Democrat Socialist Party" which have deep public support; e.g., stimulus measures? That is, will Republicans need to choose between looking like hypocrites (supporting stimulus legislation) and appearing ambivalent to the concerns of their constituents?

Andrew Thornton

Hershblogger said...

I think this:

Palazzo more accurate than "socialist."

James H said...

I think as a GOP guy it is a stupid move too

As to Steele I really want to like him. However I really wish he would learn that he is the head of the RNC and not a talking head. I mean that whole why did Romney lose thing is a huge case in point. What a uneeded mess that was. I mean why is he "guest hosting" Bob Bennetts radio show. It had disaster written all over it.

Besides thing like that , and asa conservative (social) I don't fear Steele or think he will banish us. I just am hoping he is raising money, recrutiing folks to run, and just as important figure out to match the Obama 12 outreach program

James H said...

Also Steele was quite wrong I think on the whole Mormon" thing and Romney. Which was part of the problem. The orther parts is he got inot it.

Looking at the exit poll data from the elections in that primary season it is hard to come to the conclusion he lost because the base did not like his Mormonism. He actually competed quite well in that category on the whole and did did much worse among Catholics and people of hardly no Church observance

So I did not exactly think it was reasoable. THe flip flopping is another issue

Stray Yellar Dawg? said...

You are on the money here. Such a foolish move! Don't they get it?

For one thing, most of the younger generation of voters have no fear of "socialism." So, even if it were an accurate descriptor... they think "so what?"

Even worse, though.... many of that generation are actually attracted to the governments of France, Germany and Sweden. You tell them "socialist" and they think "yeah, that's what I want!"

It is high time that the GOP held it's own base's feet to the fire on the issue of freedom. Get out of the business of curtailing other's freedom's... and they'll have something to sell. Passing constitutional amendments to hinder the rights of others is a losing proposition for a party that claims to be the party of individual rights.

Either you stand for freedom or you don't. And, if you don't... well, "socialism" is a better option than Puritanism.

Hershblogger said...

Andrew Thornton,

Yes, some who call themselves Republicans supported the auto bailouts. Some of those were from Michigan.

That was the "unbranding" of Republicanism.

gcotharn said...

I don't know what reasonable person would say anything you write is hate speech. Conservatives favor more speech, not less. Anyway, you are merely misguided, not hateful :)

One of the best essays about conservatives standing our ground, from The Other McCain question: do you have Roger Simon of Politico confused with Roger L. Simon of Pajamas Media? Roger L. Simon is socially liberal, economically moderate to conservative, and conservative on foreign policy. Roger Simon of Politico has never struck me as conservative - especially lately, as he is enamored of Barack Obama. I could be wrong. I have not spent a lot of time reading Roger Simon of Politico.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I think the Michigan issue is interesting. And I am not sure that Michiganders are the only ones embracing contradictory politics. The federal government contributes billions of dollars to Southern public school systems, for example. I have not seen moves to reject that money (like the anti-stimulus movement).

Of course, I have noted liberal hypocrisy on this blog many times as well.

Gcotharn: Is Roger Simon of Politico an "Obamican"?

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Hutchinson: Why not answer gcotharn's question instead of sliding around it? Twice you call "Roger Simon" a conservative. Here is a capsule bio of Simon from POLITICO's website. See any service with, say, NATIONAL REVIEW or THE WEEKLY STANDARD there? Any affiliation with, say, Cato Institute or the Heritage Foundation. Any time spent at, say, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL editorial page or the Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW? This isn't a comprehensive list of Right publications or organization, but the drift should be evident. To be sure, he was a Hoover Media Fellow but that's easily balanced by his being a Poynter Media Fellow and worse, a Kennedy School Clown. An "Obamican?" Hardly. He's the real deal, the MSM in uniform, tilted the regulation 15 points to the left as defined by Evan "The press's support is worth 15 points to the Democrats" Thomas of NEWSWEEK. You wonder why the GOP image is in such bad shape? Try watching Susan Roesgen in action and see if you don't start believing in the Wicked Witch of the West. The old battleaxe, nose out of joint after being turned down by Fox for a job, runs about the countryside shrieking about the evils of Republicanism, could not pass a rabies, let alone an IQ test.

By the way, why should you, a self-described "nonpartisan progressive" care about the GOP image. By definition, nonpartisans see partisan labels as irrelevant, no?

The notion that Geo. W. was conservative is good for a hearty laugh. Take an issue that matters to you and me together: primary and secondary education. You describe it thus:
"Sending children of any race to decaying and underperforming schools is an American tragedy."

You are right. The One has made his position known: let those who are in a pilot program finish their careers (but only after attempting to kick them out now) but after that, bam, no more vouchers. This is the "liberal" view as certified by the National Education Association, and executed by The One. So what's the "conservative" approach? Geo. W. did get a pilot program going, to his credit. Why did he stop there? Why not ram a national program through, as The One is trying in national health care? Doing that makes repeal far more difficult than bumping off a pilot project. There's Geo. W.'s "conservatism" for you: feeble, badly executed, left to be murdered by the following administration that doesn't know much, but is part of a "movement" (i.e. the part of a watch that drives the second hands remorselessly to the left sixty times per minute, ceaselessly going round and round, endlessly marching to the left) that has a taste for rough stuff.

Look at some of Geo. W.'s other domestic positions:

a) illegal immigration? Move the nation's capital to Mexico City, the better for swine flu to spread, justifying national health care even more...

b) prescription drug benefits for seniors. Heave seniors into the barbed wire maze of Medicare Plan D, and then spend like water! Let the deficit rise and justify The One's raising it by trillions:

Hahahahahaha! Next, let's snicker at the characteristically pseudonymous Stray Yellar Dawg? who writes:

"For one thing, most of the younger generation of voters have no fear of "socialism." So, even if it were an accurate descriptor... they think "so what?"

Let the young dolts get national health care. Let them have an extra ten percent extracted out of their paychecks for the insurance they, young and healthy, have not bought up to now. Let them be drilled into line by a big government that is going to dictate behavior in the manner of Michael "No-more-trans-fats-for-you" Bloomberg. Poorer, chafing under restrictions, they may even read some history and learn what happened the last time the nation was coming off 12 years of JFK-LBJ and Jimmy Bumpkin and 8 years of Nixon-Ford "Me too!" Republicanism. Ask them what they think of "socialism" then

To be sure, the GOP leadership's responses to The One have been mostly silly, with an occasional dollop of idiocy to laugh at, e.g. The Democratic Socialist Party. Good God. Steele you think is as good a GOP chair as can be found. No, why not put Arlen Specter in and do the job up right? Steele would be far better to be bold, e.g. every time a MSM journalist asks for comment, hit said journalist in the face with a pie, and give her a card to the nearest unemployment office. He could also invite Geo. W. on a tour of a mortuary and give our beloved ex-President a dose of the formalin he so badly needs.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Gregory - You're psychoanalytic abilities are lacking.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

PS: I am willing to say that Simon is an opportunist in terms of ideology. He bashed Kerry and Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Thompson, praised McCain, bashed McCain, etc. Perhaps its my perspective on the Left, that he comes across as conservative. And the Hoover background confirms this, but US News does as well, because it is to the right of center (not like NR, but it's not Newsweek).

Finally, Simon's ideology is secondary to the piece. He and conservatives have criticized Steele. The point stands.

gcotharn said...

Mr. Koster, I will, if ever in need of a public advocate, keep you in mind.

Obamican? lol. I assume you are teasing. I massively doubt he's a Repub; I'd bet the farm he is not conservative.

No one who has a conservative understanding of free market economics could be enamored of Barack. No one. More than anything else conservatives hold dear, it's free market economics which are currently under attack and at risk, and thus it's free market economics which currently animate conservatives. It's the attack on free market economics which drove the crowds (including a decent number of Democrats who believe in the free market) to the tea parties.

Mr. Koster is certainly correct in hinting that GWB does not fully understand why or how a free market is superior to a managed market(including superior at self correction). Mr. Koster is correct that GWB's economic beliefs set conservative's teeth painfully on edge. Then Barack came along and spurred us (and some Democrats who have jobs) to unaccustomed public protest.

Re: your main point in this post

I don't know what I think about "rebranding". I'm not a political or marketing professional.

I do think we are headed for Euro Socialist mediocrity and disaster; headed for all the human misery which Euro Socialism creates. Lower income persons in America will be in more trouble, be in more pain, than ever before. Lower income persons will have less opportunity to pull themselves out of difficulty than ever before. Whether it's smart to rebrand as "Democrat Socialists", I don't know. But it is true. And that's a looming tragedy for the poorest amongst us.

If our nation had been following Barack's Euro-Socialist policies for even the last 50 years: I suspect Barack would not be President today, as his opportunities for success would have been reduced. I suspect Beatrice Corp. would not have a black man as CEO. I suspect Clarence Thomas would not have risen to the Supreme Court. Their opportunities for success would have been reduced. I suspect Condi Rice would never have risen as a Russia expert, would never have been Provost or whatever at Stanford. Oprah might never have risen to be even a weather girl. Their opportunities - which arose via freedom and innovation, which arose naturally inside a vibrant economy - would have been significantly reduced. Congress and Barack - via reducing wealth - are increasing current human misery and reducing future opportunity for success. Congress and Barack are enslaving the very low income persons they purport to help. It's socialism, and it's disaster. America's economic might will become America's economic medium strength. That will be disaster for us and for the world. The ripple effects of world suffering will be enormous.

gcotharn said...

btw, my second sentence was addressed to Darren, and not to Mr. Koster. I didn't make that clear enough. I was assuming Darren was teasing me by saying "Obamican".

I do agree with Darren that Politico Roger Simon's political beliefs have little bearing on the thrust of the blogpost. I only mentioned Simon as an aside, as I suspected Darren might have them confused. Looks like Darren did not ever have them confused.

Aeneas said...

Labeling the Dems as Socialists is simplistic at best. There are many forms of socialism, running the spectrum from the Swedish/French/etc model, which is more an issue of economics and an umbrella government system by a democratically and freely elected government; to the Soviet version of socialism that we call communism. Lest we argue the last, for instance Romania, first calling herself during the inception of communism The Popular Republic of Romania (exact translation), proceeded to call herself, when it considered that communism had matured and 'conquered all'--The Socialist Republic of Romania. That latter form of Socialism involved loss of all individual rights, free speech, democratically elected government, etc. etc.

Therefore, if the Republicans are going to use labels, ( or anyone for that matter), especially in this case, I suggest that they make sure they understand and CLEARLY convey, in simple terms of course, which form of socialism they are using for a label. We would fear the West European form of socialism ( and by the way, seen from the Comunist Easter Europe point of view, calling them socialist is a joke) only because of its failed economic model that is now fully obvious by its stagnation, unemployment, etc. If that's the socialism we're talking about, yes, I think it lacks the 'punch' and it sounds like the same old canard. However, if the socialism we heading for is the truly left wing one that results in the loss of rights and freedoms as we know them, and if it means changes in the constitution to enable these actions, and if it means a Cuban or Venezuelan type of system (and I'm afraid the Chicago way borders that), then those using that label should be very clear about it and should clearly and boldly point it out with FACTS and proof. If that is the type of socialism (if indeed we are talking socialism ehre at all; the jury is out on this one) then yes, I am concerned. Very concerned. That needs to be fought and fought hard.

Unfortunately, htese days, the great mass works with labels. However, at the end of this long post, I agree--using this label at this point, is futile, pre-mature and may turn out to be wrong. It is damaging to the Republican Party. Steele is right.

And no, your article is not GOP bashing. The GOP needs a swift kick in the butt if it wants to return as a viable alternative. The party of ideas is become the party of labels. The same old labels; although, admitedly, the Dem seem a throw back to the seventies. But, that's a subject for another time. Let's just say, you can't turn the wheel of history back; and both the dems and reps need to remember that. Both extremes...

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Aeneas: I wish everyone appreciated complexity. My life as a professor would improve, and the political system would probably get more accomplished. As someone else said, the term "socialism" does not trigger as much anxiety among the younger generation as it does to people who grew up with the "red scare" and the USSR. Certainly, the term, as reductionist as it is, has a negative connotation, but to my and my parents' generation, it meant something even worse.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Greg aske: "By the way, why should you, a self-described "nonpartisan progressive" care about the GOP image. By definition, nonpartisans see partisan labels as irrelevant, no?"

Absolutely not! Being a nonpartisan does not remove you from the reality of partisanship. I have opined about GOP politics on here in prior blog entries, and many readers have done so as well. Some of us value having an actual "opposition party" -- not to engage in petty politics, but to question, challenge and help create good outcomes. Right now, the GOP is failing miserably in this role.

Aeneas said...

"Some of us value having an actual 'opposition party'--not to engage in petty politics, but to question, etc."

"Righ now, the GOP is failing miserably in this role"

Amen to that, Professor!

Aeneas said...

Houston, we have a problem...

I wrote another post under this topic, more erudition following your comment on my comment... and it went 'poof!' right under my eyes when I clicked to chose my Google identity. Waaaaaaaaaaaah! It was so full of wisdom, wit and wattage. Darn... It was also so deliciously cynical.

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