Insight. Antics.

BLOVIATOR: Party Over Country.

In Politics on May 27, 2009 at 11:11 am

Bloviate (v.)  \ˈblō-vē-ˌāt\

to speak or write verbosely and windily

This is the inaugural Bloviator segment (patent pending) on Brief Wit.  It’s reserved for those long-winds you just can’t keep to a low word count, knowing full well you’ve lost the reader halfway through.

Heath Ledger as Joker in Dark Knight

To hijack a recent movie quote and mess it around: “This country deserves a better class of Republican.”  (-Gasp– Did he just compare GOPers with criminals?)

It barely seems partisan to say that the rhetoric coming out of Republican leaders this year has been nitpicky, complaint-ridden, and largely free of substance.  Some of the sounds vibrating through the uvulas of these guys (which most of them are) go beyond passionate disagreement.  It’s like they’re rooting for their constituents to lose jobs or for Afghanistan to turn into Iraq circa 2004, just because Obama’s in charge.Democrats didn’t say they wanted Bush to fail or to see 9/11 v 2.0.  They said they thought his choices and approach were ludicrous and wanted to do something different.  They were spineless wusses 90% of the time, but they didn’t accuse Bush of hating America.

Strategically, it is hard to tell if even the Republican honchos have fully thought it through.  There is no apparent coordination or consistency to their critiques.  Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich have been competing for airtime, while Glenn Beck gives Rush Limbaugh a run for his money in the smoldering firebrand department.  Oh yeah, and Sarah Palin releases a statement standing up for Miss California, while Rick Perry, governor of Texas, suggests secession.  This, from the same party that stayed on-message for the last 8 years like no one before them, and won the name game on most issues we still speak about (abortion, estate tax, gay marriage, war on terror).  It will be interesting to see if they can coalesce around a common meme of principled but futile opposition to Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination.

Michael Steele on Jan 30, 2009 - Getty Images

RNC chair Michael Steele, charged with concocting a new approach for his party, has had to fit into this recent noise. He barely has; his speech last week reminded me of an opening act that just came out with its first album and has one alright song: diverting for an hour or so until the headliners (Obama vs. Cheney) kick off the real show.

When I first heard Steele won the RNC chairmanship (after something like five rounds of ballots) it made me think that politics was evolving into an exercise in minority one-upsmanship.  He’s since proven me wrong.  He’s not an idiot, but he is a demagogue.  Steele has shown that Obama is far more than the color of his skin.

Steele read a long, redundant, and un-profound speech.  Seeing him amid that blue-curtained background, I couldn’t help being reminded of Obama’s reluctant speech on race a year ago March.  The observations, reflection, and passion of that speech shook the campaign to its core.  Last week’s speech, delivered by another young, prominent African American vying to lead his party, possessed none of those elements.

The gist of Steele’s message: “We are declaring an end to the era of Republicans looking backward… We are going to take the president head-on. The honeymoon is over.”

The first part is demonstrably false since he referred to Reagan multiple times and because guys like Mike Pence are still talking like it’s 1980.  The next part is equally wrong: he and his party have been shelling mortars at Obama’s presidency since before the inauguration.  In reality, the take-away is that they’re going to keep on doing that but attempt to ensconce it in newfound righteousness.  It makes you long for the good ‘ol FDR days of GOP loyal opposition.

Why this fixation on the ailing state of the GOP?  Are people still mourning the death of the Federalists?  The concern should be a country’s viability, not a party’s.

Democrats have been in the wilderness before, and they have been arguably worse at it, because they had some decent ideas but didn’t have the backbone or linguistic skills to articulate them.  How quickly we forget how many doubting op-eds, skeptical process stories, and New York Times Magazine expositories analyzed the lifelessness and ineptitude of the party from 2000-2006.

Until the most recent presidential primary season, the idea of long-term Republican re-alignment even had some momentum.  But a month or so ago on Slate’s Political Gabfest (which I cannot endorse strongly enough) the incisive John Dickerson doubted aloud about what road to recovery the GOP has now, since they don’t appear to have true leaders.  I was surprised to hear that from him.  It is always when you have no idea and no clear leader that one emerges.  Cases-in-point: Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan.

Here are some other excerpts from Steele’s speech:

  • On his campaign for Lieutenant Governor of Maryland: “No Republican had won the governorship of Maryland since Spiro Agnew.”  Not exactly a name you want to remind people of.
  • “We all realize that the Democrats want us to be silent. They want to diminish our voice, and they even want to try to suggest that by being the loyal opposition we are in some way being less than patriotic…You’ve heard the suggestion that if we oppose the president’s policies we are in some crazy way rooting against American success.”  On the latter, Rush’s “I hope he fails” comes to mind.  But more to the point, nobody of Democratic political stature has said Republicans should pipe down; objections have only been to the “automatic-no” nature of what they have said.
  • “The era of apologizing for Republican mistakes of the past is now officially over.”  That seems arbitrary.  The remnants are visible and don’t simply evaporate.
  • “The guy who campaigned in favor of bottom-up style of governing is presiding over the most massive top down expansion of government bureaucracy and spending our country has ever seen or even contemplated.”  It’s a cheapshot to nail him on emergency responses to a fiscal crisis: infusing the system with capital, something that was begun by Paulson and Bush.
  • “And the one that galls me the most: While the president sends his kids to a private school, he is at the very same time taking away opportunity scholarships from poor Hispanic and African-American kids right here in our nation’s capital.”  I’ll agree that sending his children to private school while cheerleading public school is hypocritical.  But children are off limits.  Unless they are getting hammered drunk at 19.
  • Citing a supposed timeless truth: “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.”  That sounds good, but when we are talking about I-bankers of the last decade, equaling the playing field is not so bad.
  • “Steer clear of any frontal assaults on his Administration, they warn. They suggest that instead we should go after Nancy Pelosi, whom nobody likes.  Or Harry Reid, whom nobody knows.  Or this Tim Geithner fellow, whom nobody believes.  Or maybe even Barney Frank, whom nobody understands.”  That’s pretty funny actually.  But when you aspire to high-minded oratory, jokes and jabs don’t win you points or credibility.  When Sarah Palin made light of Obama being a community organizer in her acceptance speech, she offended hundreds of thousands of people who do honest work to improve their communities.  And following that remark, McCain looked like a hypocrite when he told people to get involved in their local communities and government in his acceptance speech the next night.

Steele put on a big to-do for the press to get attention and proceeded to say nothing.  The whole speech attempts to justify what his party is already doing with as many paraphrasing devices as it can muster.

There’s a West Wing episode where Rob Lowe’s character, Sam Seaborn, says, “The difference between a good speech and a great speech is the energy with which the audience comes to their feet at the end.  Is it polite?  Is it a chore?  Are they standing up because their boss just stood up?  No.  We want it to come from their socks.”  I watched the end of Michael Steele’s speech.  The crowd stood up with the enthusiasm of a 12-year-old taking out the garbage.

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