The Two Partisan Rebellions of Today, and the Three Parties: Republican, Democrat, and Establishment
In the first installment, we observed the ongoing rebellion against the established leadership of both parties.
As Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, told The Weekly Standard recently,
I’m convinced we’re seeing a new paradigm in American politics. We’ve seen what happens when America’s grassroots rise up and demand their elected officials do the right thing... The real divide in American politics isn’t between Republican and Democrat--it’s between the people and the entrenched politicians in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) would seem to agree; he speculated earlier this month that we are seeing “the end of traditional power.” That is, the end of the ability of political leadership to automatically command popular followership.
So yes, it’s a bipartisan phenomenon: The rabble has been roused. Mutiny is in the air. The populists have grabbed their pitchforks--and their PDAs.
Meanwhile, of course, Barack Obama’s presidential authority is eroding--or, rather, disappearing.
And don’t take my word for it; take the word of The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd. She’s a certified member of the DC courtier class, and yet on September 18, in the wake of Obama’s tone-deaf speech in the aftermath of the Washington Navy Yard shooting, she wrote dismissively:
Just as with the address to the nation on Syria last week, the president went ahead with a speech overtaken by events. It was out of joint... The man who connected so electrically and facilely in 2008, causing Americans to overlook his thin résumé, cannot seem to connect anymore... Obama is having trouble establishing trust outside with once reliable factions: grassroots Democrats and liberals in Congress.
When you’re a Democratic President and you lose touch with Democrats and liberals--you have a problem.
However, in light of this broad-based undermining of political authority, we can observe that the implosion of the Obama presidency might be just a symptom of the overall disease of authority-decay in the social-media age. After all, it’s not as if George W. Bush left office in 2009 with much authority.
Still, Obama has been uniquely feckless. He flipped and flopped on Syria, leaving no one happy. And then, in the end, he jilted those hawks--the hawks in both parties--who had stuck out their necks to defend military action.
Meanwhile, on the homefront, the economy continues to fade. Yes, the stock market is well above 15,000, and that’s good news for the DNC Finance Committee, but the country as a whole--you know, the 310 million people who don’t work as hedge funders--is still suffering from chronic un- and under-employment.
People are starting to grasp that Wall Street profits don’t particularly translate into Main Street jobs. Indeed, the relationship could well be inverse; that is, the engorgement of finance has come at the expense of such traditional heartland activities as manufacturing, farming, and mining.
Ask yourself: When the best-funded lobbyists show up in the halls of power in D.C., what do they want to talk about? Helping folks out in Indiana or somewhere else in middle America actually to make things and to create jobs? Or do they want to talk about protecting multibillion-dollar scams--presumably legal, but certainly not productive--such as what Wall Streeters are pulling in the aluminum market? The cost to the consumer may be just a penny or two per aluminum can, but that adds up fast if you’re on the receiving end.
And when the richest executives and moguls hold fundraisers for politicians of both parties, what’s the main topic? It’s not help to help farmers or ranchers; instead, it’s how to protect another scammy Wall Street finagle, this one concerning the profitable manipulation of ethanol tax credits.
Of course, these fatcats have a conscience, of a kind. So after they take care of business--their business--they prove they “have a heart” by funding such trendy causes as gay marriage or global warming. And if you think that neither cause has much to do with helping ordinary people get jobs or build businesses, well, that’s tough. They have the money, and you don’t.
Coddling Wall Street has been a reliable system for the Democrats over the last two decades, ever since Bill Clinton entered the White House.
This “neoliberal” system can be summed up as follows: financial deregulation > rampant speculation > asset bubble > huge profits for speculators > inevitable crash > government bailout, arranged by friends in high places. Repeat as many times as necessary--or as many times as can be gotten away with.
Is this a bad system? Bad for the country? Well, it’s a good system, if you’re operating it; the country be damned.
And by now we all know that Obama has been obeying the champions of this system for the past five years. That’s why he was so intent on getting Larry Summers into the top job at the Federal Reserve--because Summers was Wall Street’s designated hitter. That is, a hitter on their behalf.
Yet, of course, the Summers appointment didn’t happen. Why? Because there was a rebellion from the Democratic left.
The rebellion was led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who said recently:
Five years ago, experts said the banks had to be bailed out because there was too much concentration in banking and one failure would bring down the entire economy. Now the 4 biggest banks are 30 percent larger than they were five years ago. The five largest banks now hold more than half of all banking assets in the country. And those Too Big to Fail banks enjoy an $83 billion annual subsidy as a result of their status.
Grassroots Republicans might ask themselves, “Exactly which of her points do I disagree with?”
But in the meantime, it’s the Democrats who have the populist momentum, of a kind not seen since the 1930s. Warren also says:
We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement—and you know what? So do more than 80 percent of people. Wall Street will fight us, but the American people are on our side.
Indeed, the whole Democratic Party seems to be in a state of leftward transformation. In New York City, the September 10 victory of Bill DeBlasio in the Democratic mayoral primary proved to be a heartsong for lefties. And he’s 30 points ahead of his Republican rival; it’s a near certainty that the nation’s largest city will have a class-warfaring leftist boasting a big national megaphone.
As Peter Beinart observed in The Daily Beast, we are seeing “the rise of the New New Left.” In fact, according to a 2012 Gallup Poll, 62 percent of liberals feel favorably to socialism. Moreover, 39 percent of the overall public feels favorable to socialism. So one can see the makings of a tough hard-left surge; we can call them, for the moment, DeBlasio-Warren Democrats.
So soon, inside the Democratic Party establishment, we could see some more big timber falling. Who, for example, better symbolizes the rise and rise of the FIRE sector (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) over the last two decades than Bill and Hillary Clinton? Bill Clinton has made $13.4 million in speaking fees, just in 2011. Who do you think paid him all that money? Short answer: the FIRE sector, plus, of course, a few international moguls and foreign dictators.
Yet the chickens are coming home to roost for the Clintons. Last month, The New York Times ran a hard-hitting article on the Clinton family’s “philanthropy,” headlined, “Unease at Clinton Foundation Over Finances and Ambitions.” And just this week comes another one, even tougher, from Alec MacGillis in the liberal New Republic, scaldingly entitled, “Scandal at Clinton, Inc.”
And now that Hillary is out of the State Department and back in the private sector--at the Clinton Foundation, in fact--she has no cover. If it’s Bill’s problem, it’s her problem, too. Lloyd Green, writing in The Daily Beast, put things starkly as he detailed an emerging scandal from her 2008 presidential campaign: “The Clintons have a tropism towards other people’s money. Hill and Bill are the Bonnie and Clyde of campaign fundraising.”
Okay, so that’s what’s going on with the Democrats: The Jacobins are storming the Clinton’s Bastille.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the activists have lit their torches and are making their way to the bonfire--and their own leaders are about to get burned. From immigration to Syria to the budget to Obamacare, that leadership simply has not been listening to those who are led. And so, once again, the power-relationship could be changing. Soon.
Breitbart News readers need no help in pointing out the weakness in the current Republican leadership, but others, too, are noticing the rebellion on the right. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank--a smarmy but smart liberal--recently mocked the GOP leadership in the House; House Speaker John Boehner, he chortled, should now be called “Spokesman” Boehner, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor should be called “Majority Follower” Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy be called “Whipped” McCarthy.
Meanwhile, out in the provinces, Sen. Rand Paul, to the horror of the Republican Establishment, has been leading the charge against not only drones but also Syria. And to the insiders’ double horror, Paul just won a presidential straw poll in Michigan. And as if to prove Cruz’s point about a “new paradigm” of politics, Paul is even working with Democrats to craft legislation that would allow the individual states to decriminalize marijuana.
Thus in addition to the emergent hard-left DeBlasio-Warren Democrats, we have an emergent hard right movement--or, if one prefers, hard-libertarian movement--which can be dubbed Cruz-Paul Republicans.
So we can see, then, the formation of a really liberal movement and a really conservative movement. Or, to be more blunt about it, a left-wing party and a right-wing party.
But there’s a problem: Neither of those movements could win the country as a whole. It’s the immutable math of electoral politics: the need to get to 50 percent plus one nationwide. Such getting requires more than just left-wingers, and more than just right-wingers. That is, the right must learn that you can’t govern from Texas or South Carolina, and the left must learn that you can’t govern from New York or Massachusetts. For both left and right, the base, by itself, simply isn’t big enough.
So where could those extra numbers come from? The ones needed to go over the top?
The literal answer, of course, is that they would come from the middle, from swing voters. And as a practical matter, in the current environment, the money and the media--and thus the victory margin--would come from the centrist establishment.
You know that crowd. It’s the usual gang in D.C., plus a few others, mostly living near the “Acela Corridor,” from D.C. to Boston.
Indeed, even allowing for the existence of the respective two parties, it’s perfectly possible to see the outlines of a sort of Bipartisan Establishment Party, or BEP for short.
The BEP would include, for example, both John Kerry and John McCain. Do they disagree on some issues? Sure. But they agree on the big issues, as we saw in the case of Syria. And remember, they’re the Bipartisan Establishment Party, and so on the biggest issue of all--dismissiveness, even contempt, for the folks back home--Kerry and McCain completely agree.
And the BEP provides home, too, for other strange bedfellows. For example, Sen. Lindsey Graham, RINO of South Carolina, is a close ally with Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois, in the cause of “comprehensive immigration reform”--and we know what that means. So if you like the idea of Jeb Bush giving Hillary Clinton a “Liberty Medal,” then the BEP is for you.
In fact, the Establishment can be seen as its own kind of party. It’s a pro-Wall Street party, with suitably liberal views on most other issues, from abortion rights to gun non-rights. It’s cautiously green, in a certain way--for example, an emphasis on mass transit, of course, but nothing so radical as a ban on private jets.
Looking abroad, the BEP has never met a foreign war--or a foreign aid project--that it didn’t like. Yet at the same time, the BEP insists on strict political correctness. And that’s why New Jersey’s Obama-hugging Republican Governor, Chris Christie, is endlessly lionized by the MSM for his “strong stand” against “Islamophobia.”
As Breitbart News reported recently, Christie has even won accolades from the Center for American Islamic Relations, which is accused of being a pro-Islamist front group. Indeed, Christie was the Republican amidst a bunch of Democrats and media types to be so honored. So is Christie a member in good standing of BEP? You bet he is.
So there’s the rub: The BEP, which presumes to consist of our best and brightest, is, in fact, no damn good. The BEP is wrong on just about everything.
But of course, nobody ever went broke in D.C. simply because they were wrong. Wall Street, as we have seen, takes care of its own. And so while pay-scales in D.C. don’t approach those of NYC, Washingtonians can count on Wall Streeters to kick back to them a certain portion of their funny money, in the form of big campaign contributions and lucrative gigs after their “public service.” And of course, D.C. has other robust funding sources, notably, the taxpayers; as an instructive headline in The Weekly Standard noted, “A River of American Money Flows to D.C.”
Needless to say, despite its wealth, the BEP is completely hypocritical. By now, many on the right are wise to Obamacare’s “OPM loophole” for Congress--as perfect an example as one can get of BEP double-dealing.
On Fox News, Rand Paul drilled the populist point a little harder: “I think Congress should never exempt themselves from a law.”
And then, speaking of the Chief Justice of the United States, who last year proved to be the decisive fifth vote in upholding Obamacare, Paul added a further dig at the emerging two-tier system, in which Washingtonians are in the upper bunk:
I think John Roberts, he loves Obamacare so much, he should get it. Right now, he’s getting a federal employee subsidy. He’s not part of Obamacare. He makes the rest of America—through, I think, convoluted Constitutional logic—he makes us get Obamacare, but he’s exempt. So I have an amendment that I will introduce that says all the federal government gets Obamacare, including federal employees and including John Roberts.
And, of course, it’s highly likely that the loophole will survive. Once again, the American people be damned.
But again, if left-wing Democrats and right-wing Republicans can’t get to 50+1 just on their own, what do they do?
That’s where the BEP comes in. And of course, nobody epitomizes the fluid and fluxing nature of the BEP better than John McCain. Having flirted with the Democrats over the years--he has even considered switching parties at various times--McCain veered to the right long enough to win the Republican presidential nomination in ’08 and then to fool the Arizona GOP primary voters in 2010. But now, he is back to being a “maverick.”
McCain said recently that if the 2016 race were Hillary Clinton vs. Rand Paul, “it’s gonna be a tough choice” for him, and then he laughed. Translation: It wouldn’t be a tough choice at all--he’d support Hillary. And along with McCain’s support would come the Republican wing of the BEP. In truth, McCain would love it all. He might not ever be a king, but he could cap his career by being a kingmaker; in particular, he would savor getting his revenge on Republicans.
Of course, Hillary might not be the Democratic nominee. It’s possible to imagine that, say, Elizabeth Warren might derail Hillary Clinton on the way to the 2016 nomination. Liberal-left Democrats have been known to overturn the more moderate front-runners, as in 1968, 1972--or 2008. Yet if Warren were to win the nomination, in the name of “party unity,” she would have to turn to the Democratic wing of the BEP for a running mate. Otherwise, the BEP might shift to Christie in the general election.
And yes, Rand Paul might beat Christie for the GOP nomination, but guess who the BEP would demand he pick as his running mate? Yes, the New Jersey governor would be the heavy favorite.
Oh, and if, for some reason, Christie wasn’t suitable, then perhaps former Florida governor Jeb Bush would be available. We haven’t had enough Bushes, right?
Thus the problem for activists on both sides of the aisle: The Fix is in. That means, then, that even if the BEP is defeated for the presidential nomination, it still gets back in the game--because it offers a nominee the difference between losing and winning.
Thus a champion of the left-wing Democrats, such as Warren, would still get stuck with a BEP-er as a running mate. And, of course, her presidential administration, if she were to win, would be overrun by job-seeking Carter/Clinton/Obama retreads. Meet the new boss--the BEP boss.
And the same would hold true for Rand Paul: If he were to win in 2016, he would have “move to the center” in picking a running mate, and, if the ticket won, the presidential transition team would be drowning in Bushite resumes, both 41 and 43. As the old saying goes, “personnel is policy.” A new libertarian-leaning Republican president might strain to blaze new trails, but if his staffers were mostly committed to the old ruts, then the going would get rough--and slow. The song would remain the same--the song of the BEPs.
So is there any hope for something different? Do Republicans, in particular, have an alternative to BEP-ocracy? We’ll take up that question in the next installment.