A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


So now that some of the dust has settled, let's consider the United States Senate. They went to the brink on restricting the filibuster, but compromised. I don't like the compromise all that much, but I understand the reasons for it. The brokers of it, including my own senator Mike DeWine, decided that doing other business in the Senate, on reasonably pleasant terms, was more important than either of the take-no-prisoners partisan stances. I won't second guess them on that one, after all, they have to work there and I don't.

I do think however that it was a victory for no one except Harry Reid. The "social conservative" wing of the Republican Party (that's what we Liberals call them when in polite company, by the way) has gone ballistic. And the irreconcilable opposition to judges from the farouche fringe, has awakened with a hangover named Priscilla Owens. Harry Reid can be quite satisfied with the way he outmanuvered Bill Frist. But nobody else is, or should be, satisfied with anything.

It was most emphatically not a victory for "moderation" or "centrism", either. A deal is not an alternative, a compromise is not a political program. The most annoying thing about the so-called "centrists", the Joe Liebermans, the Arlen Specters, the John McCains, and the "Blue Dog" Democrats is that they do not seem to want anything but to "make a deal". They stand nowhere in particular and they advocate not much of anything. Or, if they do, I have not yet heard of it.

Now, as a Liberal, I have some definite ideas about what I think government should do. I haven't talked about them that much since they are unlikely to get heard or considered under the current political circumstances. For example, I think Social Security should be structured just as it is and should be supplemented directly from the general government revenue to keep it like it is for the duration. I am perfectly willing to concede that many might think this is a bad idea, but it is a definite one.

However, under the circumstances, I am perfectly willing to put my own ideas to one side and listen to the definite ideas of what "moderates", "centrists", and "conservative Democrats" would propose as policy: what laws should be passed, what executive orders promulgated. There is no reason for me, or other Liberals, not to get behind such policies, given the present climate, as long as they don't constitute something that I think the government ought not to be doing.

Do I hear such definite ideas? Not so much as you would notice. What I do hear is a constant litany to "be more centrist, be more moderate, be more responsive to what a majority of Americans really want".

Well, what do a majority of Americans really want, and how do you propose to give it to them? A few months ago, as a Liberal, I said the following on the subject:

A majority of us really want to defeat Islamic based terrorism and effectively protect ourselves from any terrorism. And a majority of us want to keep our freedoms doing it.

A majority of us really want a level economic playing field where everybody can do better for themselves, if they wish to do better, or at least maintain themselves if they are not interested in doing better, or not able to do better. A majority of us also believe that this level playing field does not happen by magic and that it is the responsibility of Government to make it level and keep it level.

A majority of us really wish to make war only when needed, for reasons which do not prove to be a bunch of hot air, and for reasons which reasonable people everywhere recognize as morally just. A majority of us really wish to make war effectively, when we must make war, and do not wish to be fed pablum that "things are going well" when they are really not going very well at all. A majority of us, thank heavens, really think that war must be waged morally, no matter who the enemy is and that immoral actions by our enemies do not justify immoral actions by ourselves.

Finally, a majority of us really wish to choose our values voluntarily, rather than through coercion by some small faction of the public, because freedom under law and voluntary choice within the law are the point of our values.

Do you agree? If not what would you say?

As far as I can see, "being more moderate" means having no definite ideas about anything whatever, except for the utility, under all circumstances, of "making a deal". This is what I, and other Liberals, are being asked to do.

Thanks, but no thanks. I like having ideas.

After all, without a definite idea, without clear opinions, without specific proposals, what the devil is there to make a deal about? Moreover, without definite views about what should be done, how is it possible to cultivate a stance about what should not be done? In the world of "let's make a deal", on these terms, everything is up for grabs.

The fine art of really making a deal, and one which is neither a pointless, incoherent compromise (like the one the Senate just made), nor an abject surrender, is knowing when to make a deal and when to stand firm. You can do this only if you have some definite views of your own.

And, yes, the recent compromise was pointless, with no winner except Harry Reid and no loser except Bill Frist. It committed no one to anything substantial except one vote on one judge.

Harry Reid won because the whole filibuster issue exhausted both the Senate and the media. Any further attempt to modify the filibuster will be much weaker, like a second or third serve in tennis. Also, with the "social conservatives" out with their long knives for the Republican members of the moderate "betrayal", the actual party discipline of the Senate Republicans is unlikely to improve.

Unlike the Arlen Specter affair at the start of the session, where grassroots protest nearly prevented him from receiving a committee chair, moderates now will really gain nothing by conforming to strict party discipline. Little else they do will influence their bad standing with the "social conservative" grassroots.

Bill Frist lost because his control of his party has been seriously undermined, and his standing among "social conservatives" (whom he claimed, very ostentatiously, as his power base) has probably withered. This is so not only because he didn't deliver the goods, he failed to do so in a way which made him look like he didn't try that hard.

Why has all this happened? Harry Reid outmanuvered Frist because Reid was willing to risk losing and Frist wasn't. Because he was afraid to lose, Frist didn't pull the trigger soon enough. He let Reid propose some real possibilities for compromise, and he left enough time for the moderates of both parties to get to work. They took the fight right out from under him.

Now was it really worth the weeks of uproar over it? Particularly with torture, murder, and the Downing Street Memo still on the stove?


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