At the Lesser Cambridge

Cambridge, the one in England, is by all accounts a fine place – very pretty and very British, with its famous university that’s been there forever, perhaps the best in the world. The Cambridge in Massachusetts, across the river from Boston, has Harvard, as good as it gets in the New World, and it’s a fine place too. Both produce those who lead the world. Then things drop off. The Cambridge in rural east-central Ohio is another matter – pretty enough, with a few famous glassworks, but tiny. Fewer than twelve thousand people live there, but it has one famous son, John Glenn, pretty much our first man in space, at least the first man to orbit the earth. The Cambridge in Maryland is about the same size, but it’s even less remarkable – that’s where Maude grew up, the actress Bea Arthur, but then she was voted “wittiest girl” by her classmates at Cambridge High School, so that’s something, but not really. The name Cambridge is cool, but prestige and importance are nontransferable. Some places scream irrelevance, no matter what their name.

The Republicans should have thought of that, when they chose Maryland:

Far from the U.S. capital, on a 400-acre resort on the banks of the Choptank River, House Republicans have hunkered down for their annual retreat, a three-day confab where the party’s leadership tries to unify Republicans around policy and messaging goals for the coming year.

Echoing President Obama, Republicans launched the retreat promising a “year of action.” But in order to walk the walk, Republicans are hoping to leave this wintry wonderland with a better idea of how to tackle big upcoming issues that are pitting the establishment wing of the party against their Tea Party colleagues.

Yeah, there’s the debt-ceiling thing, and immigration reform, if they want to avoid irrelevance, and all the women’s issues, and how to oppose what the polling shows almost all Americans want – an extension of long-term unemployment benefits for those screwed by the economy that won’t recover for anyone but the wealthy, and raising the minimum wage for those who work full time but still find themselves in abject poverty – without coming off as arrogant heartless jerks. The scholars at Cambridge, the one in England, would find all of this a real challenge. This group of Republicans at the Cambridge in Maryland hardly stands a chance.

Things started off badly, on State of the Union night. They didn’t offer one unified response, one stirring rebuttal to everything Obama said, they offered four – the official one from Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the House Republicans’ highest-ranking woman, to prove that they do have a few of those women-folk on their side, and Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul did their Tea Party thing, the firebrand and the wonk, and there was Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida, the first Cuban-American elected to Congress, to prove that they really don’t hate all Hispanic-folk, but she just said what McMorris Rodgers’s said, in Spanish – government is stupid and should stop doing things and let unregulated free-market capitalism fix everything that’s wrong with everything, as Jesus intended. No, wait – Jesus didn’t come up. It may be that He didn’t poll well.

This seemed to be an attempt to overwhelm America with what in football they call a blitz – everyone pours in and rushes the quarterback before he can even think of throwing a pass, and sacks him for a loss. It’s a strength-in-numbers thing, which may have been a miscalculation. There’s such a thing as diluting the message. Hey, who speaks for you guys? Who’s the leader over there? Do you even have one? This wasn’t a pretty picture.

It didn’t matter, because of the fifth guy:

Hot-headed Congressman Michael Grimm tried to play nice Wednesday, apologizing for his shocking threat to “break” a NY1 reporter “in half” and toss him over a balcony. Facing a storm of outrage, the Staten Island Republican phoned his regrets to reporter Michael Scotto, suggested the two have lunch, and then offered a public mea culpa outside his Capitol office.

“My Italian mother is gonna be yelling at me saying, ‘You weren’t raised that way,’ and she’s right,” the two-term Republican from Staten Island said. “The bottom line is, sometimes I wear my emotions on my sleeve,” he said.

“I was wrong. It shouldn’t have happened.”

Yes, it shouldn’t have happened. The fifth guy got all the coverage, not the first four. At the end of an interview with Scotto, about Obama’s State of the Union speech, Scotto tried to slip in an extra question about the ongoing and rather serious criminal investigation of this guy’s fundraising oddities, and Grimm threatened to kill him – to toss him off the balcony right there, or break him in half “like a little boy” – because he would NOT be disrespected. The video of that was all over the news, and went viral on YouTube, and after a day of bravado, saying this was how all politicians should treat the press – egged on by the likes of Rush Limbaugh – he thought a bit better about this, or the party had a chat with him. They don’t need another Chris Christie. One thug is enough, or one too many – unless Christie is not really a thug but only an incredibly weak leader who can’t keep his own staff and closest friends from being thugs. Either way, the party didn’t need this stuff to be the one thing people remember about the Republicans the night of Obama’s big speech.

Andrew Sullivan, after reviewing the new and dismal polling numbers for Chris Christie, adds this:

Christie, it seems to me, had a couple of very strong arguments to make not so long ago. The first was his personality: brusque, no-nonsense, a bull-in-a-china-shop who’d be a natural response to the professorial, no-drama POTUS we currently have. Now, that personality is easily viewed through the prism of a Tony Soprano style politics – with more petty vindictiveness and bullying. His second argument was that he could appeal to Independents and Democrats. In fact, that appeal was behind the absurdly maximalist re-election campaign as governor. Maybe he’ll recover some of that bipartisan mojo – but the bloom is way off that rose.

The man is unelectable now, and Grimm threatening to kill that reporter didn’t help matters either. Who have they got? Ed Kilgore suggests the guy whose numbers rose when Christie’s fell, which would be Mike Huckabee:

The guy who might have the ideal combination of genuine support from hard-core conservatives without being toxic to non-Republicans is actually Huck. As you may recall, in 2008 Huck benefitted from the same sort of dynamic until he ran out of money. He won Iowa thanks to support from serious Christian Right types, but at the same time, had a positive image in the mainstream media thanks to his sunny disposition (you know, jokiness plus bass playing) and his refusal to pretend the W. economy was just aces.

Sure, that might work if they can get him to stop talking about the evils of all forms of birth control and women’s “out of control” libidos. He’s a nice guy, but toxic underneath, and the party has their real favorite:

A Public Policy Polling survey conducted Jan. 23-26 showed that the former governor of Alaska has a 70 percent favorability rating among GOP primary voters, topping six other potential candidates in the poll, even though her name was not on the list of 2016 GOP candidates to choose from.

“The best-liked person we tested on this poll with Republican primary voters is actually Sarah Palin,” the poll noted.

In the survey of 845 registered voters, including 457 Republican primary voters, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee tops the list of possible presidential contenders, with a favorability rating of 64 percent. Fifty-eight percent of respondents have a positive view of both Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the former 2012 vice presidential nominee.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has a 56 percent favorability rating, and 45 percent of respondents view Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in a positive light. Embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie comes in last with a 40 percent favorability rating.

She’s back – not running yet, but back. Maybe that was being discussed down at the lesser Cambridge, or even down there they heard the new news regarding Hillary Clinton:

Clinton stands at an eye-popping 73 percent in a hypothetical 2016 primary race with Biden, the sitting vice president, who is the only other candidate in double digits at 12 percent. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has signed a letter along with a handful of other Democratic senators urging Clinton to run, is at 8 percent. And that’s it.

That lead is almost three times as large as the one Clinton enjoyed in Post-ABC polling in December 2006, the first time we asked the 2008 Democratic presidential primary ballot question.

Barring something unforeseen, the Democrats have their candidate, and have their policy goals set. Hillary is inevitable, and Sullivan sees how this plays out:

Yes, the same was said last time as well, and she still managed to screw it up. But this time, there is no Obama in the wings, and this time, her coronation would follow a humiliation in 2008 and rehabilitation as secretary of state. Obama has also broken the barrier of an African-American president, and Democrats will find the appeal of the first woman president – and the gender gulf that could thereby open up – irresistible. Even veteran Clinton-skeptics, ahem, find the appeal of a woman president galvanizing – the perfect way to add charisma and excitement to a very establishment and uncharismatic figure. Then there’s the Bill factor – a second Clinton presidency would be a reprise of the two-for-one package of 1992 and 1996. But this time, it would import into the White House the best political salesman in the country, with invaluable foreign policy experience and chops. If Hillary wins, Bill should be secretary of state. A formal role on the world stage is far preferable to an informal role on the inside fucking everything up.

What do her Democratic opponents have that could possibly match this appeal? And whom do the Republicans have? Their centrists are pedestrian, Pawlenty-style Midwesterners with little of the personality and star power that a presidential campaign demands. I mean: Walker? Kasich? They’re solid governors, but … it’s hard to see them in the White House. The base faves – a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul – could get the nomination pretty quickly, given the new primary calendar and rules. But it would be very hard to frame a race between Clinton and, say, Cruz, as anything but a Johnson-Goldwater moment.

That leaves Jeb Bush, but there is too much baggage there. It’s the name, unfairly or not. That leaves the Republicans at the Cambridge retreat in retreat:

What fascinates me is not just the dynamics of the race that is shaping up, but what could happen after. Imagine the GOP losing to Obama twice, and then losing to their bugaboo of the 1990s in 2016. Wouldn’t that be a shattering blow to morale? Could the GOP be drifting toward its role in the 1950s and 1960s again – a dyspeptic regional party with no ability to win a national majority? Or would a third presidential defeat in a row (and the fifth loss in in the national vote in six elections) lead to a civil war from which a saner Republican party could emerge at last?

I don’t know. But I don’t think this combination of factors will be boring.

Paul Waldman agrees, but sees disaster:

There are few things more fundamental to smart political strategy than the understanding that other people may not share your beliefs, and may not have the same emotional reactions you do to certain people and events. That understanding is what allows you to make thoughtful decisions about how to persuade the number of people you need to achieve your political goals, whether it’s passing a piece of legislation or winning an election. This is something Republicans often struggle with, but when it comes to the Clintons, they’re absolutely blinded by hate. To take just one example, if Hillary runs, we’re going to be hearing a lot about Benghazi, because Republicans are not only sure she did something scandalous, they’re also sure that if they just hammer away at it long enough, everybody else will become convinced, too. But just like with Bill’s impeachment, exactly the opposite is likely to happen: the more they talk about it, the more voters will become convinced that they’ve taken leave of their senses.

And that, more than anything else, may be what gives Hillary Clinton such a good chance of winning in 2016. When they’re looking at her, her opponents just can’t see straight.

Yes, but that’s why you have retreats – to get everyone to calm down and gain perspective. Brainstorming is necessary too. Zachary Goldfarb examines the new ideas:

In the past few days alone, three senior GOP senators unveiled an alternative to Obama’s health-care law that offers a conservative vision for covering the uninsured, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) summoned experts to a Capitol Hill hearing to discuss new ways to help the poor, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) proposed making childless adults eligible for a lucrative tax credit currently available only to working families.

The challenge for Republicans is convincing voters that their newfound concern is sincere. After three years of budget cuts and fiscal crises that badly damaged the GOP brand, voters not only rejected presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 but also have told pollsters that they view Republicans generally as indifferent to middle-class interests.

That must change if the party hopes for a different outcome in the 2014 midterm elections and beyond, senior Republicans say.

“We are going to have to offer an affirmative platform in areas from job training and education to entitlements and the social safety net to employment law and environmental regulation,” said Oren Cass, domestic policy director to the Romney campaign, “instead of just acknowledging problems that liberals are talking about and then criticizing big-government responses.”

That’s what the Maryland retreat is about:

Ideas are rapidly percolating among Republicans in both chambers of Congress. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has urged more competition in the public school system, pushing vouchers and charters to give poor children a better chance of climbing the economic ladder. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has promoted an expansion of the child tax credit to provide additional support to low-income families. And Ryan has touted government grants for businesses to train the workers they need.

They’re spinning out ideas, none of which will ever become law, but it’s something, unless, as Goldfarb notes, it’s nothing:

As they cast about for ideas, Republicans are struggling to find policies that match the simplicity and gut appeal of such Democratic proposals as raising the minimum wage without violating core conservative principles by increasing spending or interfering with market forces. Many lawmakers are turning to conservative think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute.

Maybe those conservative think tanks can come up with a way for the government to do things without increasing spending or interfering with market forces, but that’s inherently contradictory, as Matthew Yglesias notes:

The reality is that a whole bunch of forces are converging to put a larger share of economic growth into the hands of a smaller number of people. The idea of “interfering with market forces” can get a bit question-begging, but the point is that if you want to turn that trend around you have to change something. You can rejigger how the market works or you can tax and transfer more or you can do both. The good news in Goldfarb’s piece is that a number of Republicans are trying to think of constructive things they could do. Marco Rubio, for example, has spoken favorably about the idea of a more generous EITC that would make less-educated men’s work more valuable. But if that’s an idea worth doing, then it’s an idea worth spending money on.

Now note that historically conservatives have not had the view that it is always un-conservative to spend money. Ronald Reagan, for example, substantially increased government spending to pay for what he saw as a necessary military build-up vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. But if today’s conservatives construe “core conservative principles” such that money cannot be spent on any domestic social ill, then they’re going to have a very difficult time putting a constructive agenda together. Conservatives probably don’t care what I think, but they might want to ask themselves if this is really a reasonable way to define conservative principles.

They’ve trapped themselves, and it will be a bad few days down in Maryland:

For more than a year House Republican leaders have insisted the chamber would act on new immigration laws. And for more than a year, Republicans have done virtually nothing on the issue – despite intense pressure from activists, business groups, and the nation’s changing demographics.

And although there are a variety of reasons for inaction, one Republican lawmaker recently offered a frank acknowledgement that for many House Republicans, there’s one issue at play that’s not often discussed: race.

“Part of it, I think – and I hate to say this, because these are my people – but I hate to say it, but it’s racial,” said the Southern Republican lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “If you go to town halls people say things like, ‘these people have different cultural customs than we do.’ And that’s code for race.”

Is anyone surprised? Greg Sargent explains the problem:

We’re now being told that House Republicans are set to roll out “principles” governing the sort of immigration reform they’d be willing to accept. Most reports suggest they will include some form of legalization for the 11 million – but not citizenship, of course, since that’s “amnesty.”

So it’s worth clarifying a point that continues to be largely misunderstood: There is a compromise route to immigration reform – one that does not include a “special pathway” to citizenship – that many Dems and advocates might accept, though this isn’t usually stated aloud. The question is whether Republicans can get to that middle ground.

Ah, they’re working on a “special pathway” to citizenship, that doesn’t include citizenship, really, so it’s not amnesty – or something. Sargent tries to explain that, but it’s mind-numbing, as it involves the bad folks somehow achieving citizenship – which most Republicans may or may not accept in theory – and then making reforms to the regular citizenship process that opens up a “path” which doesn’t involve “special” treatment for the undocumented. Got it? Don’t worry. No one gets it, and it’s not going anywhere:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) thinks that the House GOP leadership’s renewed push this week to grant amnesty to illegal aliens would destroy the Republican Party’s chances at retaking the Senate in 2014.

Cruz questioned how establishment Republicans unilaterally caving to Democrats on everything from the farm bill to the budget to the debt ceiling and more could think amnesty is a good idea at this time.

“Right now, Republican leadership in both chambers is aggressively urging members to stand down on virtually every front: on the continuing resolution, on the budget, on the farm bill, on the debt ceiling,” Cruz said in a statement provided exclusively to Breitbart News on Thursday.

He didn’t get the memo. It’s a “special pathway” – not amnesty at all. Also see Rush Limbaugh – Why are Republicans Hell-Bent on Destroying Their Party with Amnesty?

This is not going well. To win future elections, the party will have to be reasonable and humane and willing to spend a little and grant that sometimes government can do useful things, and trick their base into thinking they’re not doing any of that. Or they’ll have to trick America into thinking they have had a change of heart and are doing all that stuff, while winking at their base and showing them they’re doing no such thing. It’s a puzzle, something to discuss at the Cambridge retreat. They just chose the wrong Cambridge. The one in Maryland produced no world leaders, although Bea Arthur was a hoot. Maybe they’re working on their comedy chops.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to At the Lesser Cambridge

  1. Rick says:

    Various observations:

    (1) Another “Republican Retreat”? Didn’t they do this just a month or so ago?

    Do Democrats have “retreats”? Those Republicans seem to be constantly “retreating”. Isn’t “retreat” what they’ve so often accused the French of doing? Maybe somebody should remind these perpetually-retreating Republicans of that old line, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

    (2) “Jesus didn’t come up. It may be that He didn’t poll well.”

    Maybe not in Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s response, but Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ talk was pretty weighted-down with God at the end. Yes, Obama does mention God now and then, too, but he doesn’t try to hit people over the head with it like Rodgers did. But Obama’s not-getting-overly-preachy seems to be an acquired skill that many Republicans haven’t yet learned — just one of the many reasons that the Democrats have a bigger tent.

    (3) But I didn’t even know about all those folks that came after Rodgers, and even almost missed watching her, since it was well after 10:30 PM eastern time by then, way past some people’s bedtimes. If the opposition party is going to plan a “blitz”, I’d think they’d get better mileage if they did it when people were awake.

    (4) As for Hillary’s recaptured “inevitability”, she does seem to be much more “inevitable” now than she was in 2008, if that helps anyone’s understanding. But lest we forget, at least now there doesn’t seem to be any measurable “Anybody-But-Hillary” movement that I seem to recall there was at this point in the 2008 race.

    (5) “As they cast about for ideas, Republicans are struggling to find policies that match the simplicity and gut appeal of such Democratic proposals as raising the minimum wage without violating core conservative principles by increasing spending or interfering with market forces. Many lawmakers are turning to conservative think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute.”

    Is it just my imagination or do Republicans have many more “think tanks” than we do?

    I don’t find this surprising, since unearthing ways to disguise the fact that all your “alternative ideas” (which seems to be the Republican concept of the week) — such as proposing to do something, but doing it without spending a nickel or “interfering with market forces” — pretty much always ends up doing nothing at all, is something you might not want to attempt on your own. For something as complicated as this, you might want to turn to outside help.

    Maybe these retreats are just a way for the Republicans to stiff-arm the truth. Sometimes I really think the only thing keeping that party alive is it’s skill at seemingly not being able to explain itself. It’s sort of like dodgeball, in which the winner seems to be the one best at running away, the one who avoids ever having to take a direct hit.

    Which is to day, if those people ever decide to take the honesty-and-truth route — that is, admitting the reason they keep coming up with nothing is because “nothing” is exactly what they believe in — the game will be over, and America will be left with a one-party system.

    Rick

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