A Republican in Manhattan

Sometimes you spend a buck to daydream. You buy a lottery ticket and imagine what you’d do if you were the one who hit all five numbers, and the bonus number. Sure, that’s beyond unlikely, but it’s far cheaper than buying a movie ticket, to sit in the dark and watch someone else’s daydream, trying to pretend it’s yours. And your daydream might be to move to the foggy and complex London of Sherlock Holmes, if you’ve read all those stories. But that was long ago, as is the London of Twiggy and the sixties. Or perhaps, like that fellow in the recent Woody Allen movie, you daydream of Paris in the twenties – the Paris of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein and all that. But that was long ago, as is the Paris of Sartre and Camus at the Flore, with Miles Davis dropping by – the Paris of the fifties. But maybe you saw Woody Allen’s better film, Manhattan, and you want to move there. You know Manhattan hasn’t really changed, even if Dorothy Parker isn’t chatting with Harpo Marx at the Algonquin anymore, and Greta Garbo no longer hiding in her fancy place at the far end of East 52nd Street, and Studio 54 is long gone. It’s still a vital place and kind of the center of everything – both sophisticated and gritty – the city that never sleeps, pulsing with almost manic intensity. And maybe some of that might rub off on you. So a nice little place, with glass walls, high above 57th Street, would be cool – just south of Central Park, with the Russian Tea Room and Carnegie Hall to the left – with a long black piano, so late in the evening you could sip good scotch and plunk out a few Gershwin tunes. You would have arrived – at the epicenter of everything. At least that’s the daydream.

But that’s nuts. Your liberal friends will tell you that the city is filled with those evil Wall Street sharks, the guys who ruined America, and their even worse sleazy lawyers, from the old White Shoe law-firms downtown. And Fox News is there too, with their midtown studios not far from Rockefeller Center. But then your conservative friends will tell you about all the damned liberals there, who scoff at NASCAR and country music and don’t even own a damned car – and who go to the opera of all things. Hell, they’re all Woody Allen there – overeducated and fidgety and really annoying, who think they know so much about how Real Americans, in the fly-over states, should live their lives. Screw them. Win the lottery and move to Manhattan and you too could turn into Woody Allen. The place will ruin you. And thus each side agrees on the same thing – the place puts your mainstream Middle America values at risk. Manhattan changes people.

And that’s what makes this New York Times item about Jeb Bush so interesting:

Speaking at a breakfast with national reporters held by Bloomberg View in Manhattan, Mr. Bush questioned the party’s approach to immigration, deficit reduction and partisanship, saying that his father, former President George Bush, and Reagan would struggle with “an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement.”

That’s what happens when you go to Manhattan. You lose those mainstream Middle America values:

For the better part of three decades, there has been no more prominent family in Republican politics than the Bushes.

But tough talk about the state of the party on Monday by former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida – who went so far as to say that Ronald Reagan and his father would have a “hard time” fitting in during this Tea Party era – exhibited a growing distance between the family, which until not very long ago embodied mainstream Republicanism, and the no-compromise conservative activists now driving the party.

Jeb Bush didn’t turn into Woody Allen, but saying this might have been worse:

“Ronald Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, similar to my dad, they would have had a hard time if you define the Republican Party – and I don’t – as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement. … Back to my dad’s time or Ronald Reagan’s time, they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan support that right now would be difficult to imagine happening.”

But it is what it is:

Mr. Bush’s comments help solidify his role as the Republican Party’s leading voice of moderation at a time when many in the party – particularly Tea Party adherents – are calling for ever-greater ideological discipline. And he continued a trend this campaign cycle of big-name presidential endorsers going off script from the campaigns they support. Mr. Bush has endorsed Mitt Romney’s candidacy.

Mr. Bush was careful to emphasize that he believed the modern-day Democratic Party was equally dug in on ideological and partisan grounds, saying “this dysfunction, you can’t say it’s one side or another.” And he said President Obama had failed to live up to his promise to be a transcendent leader, specifically pointing to failure to embrace the advice of the bipartisan deficit panel he created, known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission.

And Slate’s Matt Taylor offers historical perspective:

Bush, like his brother, wants the party to try harder to win Hispanic voters, and defends the (tax-raising) budget deal his dad cut in 1990 that many conservatives blame for the 41st president’s defeat to Bill Clinton.

But that was a different era, when outside groups like the Club for Growth weren’t spending millions to keep pragmatic congressional Republicans from stepping out of line. The risks in the modern GOP – of drawing a primary challenge by a Tea Party insurgent, for example – in gaining a reputation as a negotiator or problem-solver are immense in a way they weren’t even ten years ago. Bush may just need to get used to the new way of things.

But MSNBC’s Steve Benen sees Jeb Bush as an odd duck:

Last week, for example, the former Florida governor praised President Obama on education policy, hot on the heels of Romney delivering a speech condemning Obama’s education policy. Bush also said his party is being “short-sighted” on tax and immigration policies, which is not what the GOP mainstream wants to hear.

But Benen is wary:

It’s a stretch to suggest that Jeb Bush is somehow becoming more moderate, or even sensible. This morning, he also praised Paul Ryan’s radical budget plan, for example, and blamed Obama for Washington dysfunction, condemning the president for pursuing “partisan” policies in his first year, rather than “common ground.” (In his first year, Obama pushed Mitt Romney’s health care plan, John McCain’s climate plan, and a stimulus with massive tax breaks. Partisan? Please.)

But those comments don’t change the overall message Bush has offered over the last week, which is clearly at odds with what Romney and his campaign have been saying.

And Jeb is not alone:

Just a few weeks ago, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said Reagan “would be stunned by the party today” – adding that there were similar divisions in the early 1950s between Eisenhower Republicans and GOP extremists like Joe McCarthy, but the difference is, in 2012, “the extremists are winning.”

In April, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) said the same thing. What’s more, Mike Huckabee said a year ago, “Ronald Reagan would have a very difficult, if not impossible, time being nominated in this atmosphere of the Republican Party.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had a nearly identical take in 2010, arguing Reagan “would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.”

So Benen thinks something is up here, and he reminds us of the real Ronald Reagan:

Reagan raised the debt ceiling 18 times, and he supported the precursor to the Buffett Rule. In his first term, Reagan raised taxes when unemployment was nearing 11% – imagine trying this today – and proceeded to raise taxes seven out of the eight years he was in office. It’s a fact the right finds terribly inconvenient, but “no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people” as Reagan.

Reagan gave amnesty to undocumented immigrants, expanded the size of the federal government, tripled the deficit and added trillions to the debt, bailed out domestic industries, and called for a world without nuclear weapons. Reagan also met with our most hated enemy without preconditions, criticized Israel, and illegally funneled arms to Iran.

And then there’s his gubernatorial record: in California, Reagan increased spending, raised taxes, helped create the nation’s first state-based emissions standards, signed an abortion-rights bill, and expanded the nation’s largest state-based Medicaid program (socialized medicine).

Reagan “could not get through a Republican primary today”? Reagan could not get through a Republican primary without being laughed off the stage today.

So what’s going on here may be important:

For one thing, it’s at least interesting to appreciate the fact that while Republicans have a religious-like reverence for Reagan, they have no use for his approach to governance. For another, it should tell the American mainstream something important when the GOP moves so far to the ideological extreme that it’s no longer the Party of Reagan.

And finally, there’s the small matter of Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush’s ally, having said the exact opposite, making the former Florida governor another surrogate who isn’t sticking to Boston’s script.

Or maybe it’s just that when you get to Manhattan you lose your values, or, as Jonathan Chait suggests, perhaps Jeb Bush is simply setting up his 2016 run:

To understand what Bush is saying, you need to anticipate how the party might diagnose the causes of a loss in 2012, and then you can see how he is setting himself as the cure….

If you try to imagine the Republican consensus after a potential losing election, it will look like this. It will recognize that its harsh partisan rhetoric turned off voters, and will urgently want to woo Latinos, while holding on to as much as possible of the party’s domestic policy agenda. And oh, by the way, the party will be casting about for somebody to lead it.

And Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog says that’s baloney:

Chait’s making a subtle point: Jeb isn’t really any more moderate than the current crazies, except on immigration, but his tone is more moderate – and that’s going to be the winning formula in the GOP in 2016 if Romney loses this year.

That subtle point is utter nonsense.

Sorry – the party isn’t going to moderate by 2016 if Romney loses. It isn’t going to moderate in policy and it isn’t going to moderate in tone. I don’t care how pugnacious Romney is now. I don’t care how many hippies he punches. I don’t care how wingnutty his running mate is. If he loses, the post mortem from the most influential right-wingers is going to be: we nominated a RINO, the same way we did in 2008, and we lost to the Kenyan socialist. The way to win is to nominate a true conservative.

And of course Jeb wouldn’t have said that if he were back in Florida, with the panhandle rednecks and the aged leathery retirees, who left the city long ago. But then the city is where the party’s big guns are:

Yeah, I know: the party elders may be desperate to dial down the craziness. But remember, they were similarly desperate after 2008. Remember the “pizza summit” in March 2009 featuring … um, Jeb Bush? That effort to put a new, mellow face on the GOP was soon utterly swamped by the Tea Party movement. If advocates of moderation try it again, they’ll be slapped down again.

If you think the GOP will go mellow in 2016, you must believe that Jim DeMint, Rush Limbaugh, Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, Dick Armey, Charles Koch, David Koch, Sheldon Adelson, and Joe Ricketts (that’s a partial list) are all going to die in the same plane crash between now and then. You also have to believe that the mainstream press is finally going to define extremism and intransigent partisanship as overwhelmingly Republican phenomena, and stop saying “Both sides do it!” Not gonna happen.

So, really, Jeb, just stop it. Demonization will continue to be in fashion in your party for the foreseeable future.

And, from the heartland, Talking Points Memo points out that there was this:

Jeb Bush’s remark that Ronald Reagan would be too moderate for today’s Republican Party earned an aggressive rebuke from the gatekeeper of the anti-tax orthodoxy that permeates the modern GOP.

“That’s foolish,” Grover Norquist, the architect of the bedrock never-raise-taxes pledge that nearly every Republican has signed, told TPM in an interview. “It’s stup – it’s bizarre.”

Grover was most unhappy:

Norquist – who Democrats frequently blame for incubating the GOP’s stubbornness on taxes – defended Reagan by arguing that he had to deal with a Democratic-led Congress and a GOP that hadn’t yet embraced his anti-government outlook.

“He didn’t have a Republican House committed to not raising taxes as president. And he had a pre-Reagan Senate. This is the Republican Party that Reagan created – that he envisioned,” said Norquist, who leads Americans for Tax Reform. “He didn’t get everything he wanted. But to argue that having moved the ball down the field as he did, and having created in his wake a Republican Party that represents his vision …”

And then he sputtered out. But Ana Marie Cox, in the Guardian, had a few things to say about that:

“I hope we don’t all have this march” toward irreversible partisanship, he [Jeb Bush] said. “If someone is a conservative or a liberal, we’re sent this little book that says, ‘you must not veer.”‘

Of course, there are such books – in the sense that there are keepers of partisan orthodoxy on either side. Whether by virtue of temperament or power structure, however, it’s the GOP that, right now, seems most sensitive – or maybe, most enthusiastic – about conformist tendencies. (And I’d guess the Obama re-election team is jealous.)

But Norquist is a special case, as are the conformist Republicans:

An astounding 95% of elected Republicans have signed Norquist’s contract. I am hard-pressed to name any single policy aim that has that kind of backing on the Democratic side. In the legislature itself, Democrats have more caucuses than caucus unity. Whereas the GOP has the Republican study committee, famous for pressuring lawmakers to push a strict agenda, one that even House Republicans worry is set by outside groups more intent on ideology than moving legislation forward. Last summer, representatives staged an impromptu protest against the group’s attempt to generate votes against House speaker John Boehner’s debt ceiling compromise.

For a more recent example, see, well, the past year or so of the Republican presidential primaries, a race defined by its finish line on the far right. Wherever they started, by the end of their campaigns, Romney and Santorum only gave voters as their choice varying degrees of extreme: who was the hungriest for war with Iran, the least amenable to women’s rights, the keenest to repeal healthcare reform, the toughest on immigration.

And this may be a gift, of sorts, to the Democrats:

It’s no secret that the Obama campaign hopes that this extremism, paired with a portrait of Romney-the-job-killer, will undo his opponent in the fall. The plan has many flaws, mostly having to do with the Obama team’s inability to mount a positive case for their own stewardship of the economy. But there’s also an underlying cognitive dissonance to the argument: to make Romney’s past as a corporate hatchet man ring true, he must be painted as a cold pragmatist – and his obvious pragmatism gives his extremist rhetoric the kind of shaky foundation that might allow moderate voters to discount it.

So it might be difficult to see just who the extremist is:

And as president, Romney could very well negotiate the narrow-but-visible range of ideological latitude that George W Bush wiggled in. Progressives tend to forget that W disappointed many conservatives: he failed to follow through on turning social services into a “faith-based” enterprise and he practically invented what some bemoan as “big government conservatism”. …

On the other hand, it’s no wonder that congressional representatives, low men on the Washington totem pole, are the easiest prey for anyone with a large bank account and the promise of activist involvement. They make campaign promises and, two years later, must face up to them. The difference in these post Citizens United days is that the promises aren’t to constituents, they’re to American Crossroads, the Club for Growth and random bored billionaires.

And that’s the real problem here:

The power of these outside ideology police raises the question as to whether any of the polarization that has frozen Congress is for real. Is there a little Mitt in everyone who prostrates themselves for donations, their very willingness to bend their beliefs a sign that they aren’t all that enthusiastic about enforcing them? We shall find out, because the mounting level of influence levied by conservative extremists has shaped a party that looks very little like America. As the leadership and pocketbooks of the GOP move right, the country has stayed mostly in the center. Republican officials have been able to believe their own funhouse mirror reflection because the money keeps working, keeps winning. Romney’s own skillful manipulation of the Super Pac system could make for a victory that sustains the illusion of a relationship between the goals of the party and the goals of most Americans.

And unlike past administrations, where the president could reasonably push back on donors, the sheer amount of money involved in this election raises the question of just how even more beholden Romney would be to the people who put him in office.

So her conclusion is this:

The Republican Party rests on fault line that has been papered over with cash. Only if Romney wins, can they ignore its existence for a while longer.

Well, yes – that’s probably true. But there’s also the Manhattan Divide. Jeb goes to the big city and talks to the national reporters, all based there, at Bloomberg’s fancy midtown skyscraper (with Le Cirque on the first floor) – and drops all the muddled and angry Middle America anger and resentment, for that more sophisticated man-about-town stuff, which Middle America has always resented, and envied.

Hey, everyone watches Saturday Night Live – Live, From New York! Maybe Jeb Bush will guest host soon.

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.
This entry was posted in Jeb Bush, Reagan Republicans, Reagan's Legacy, Real Americans, Republican Attraction to the Extreme and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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