Après Le Deluge

Picking Up The Pieces

By Pejman Yousefzadeh Posted in | Comments (43) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »

One does not view the results of the midterm elections with a devil-may-care attitude and hope or expect to learn anything of consequence as a result. The elections were a disaster for Republicans. I agree with others who have said that this was not so much a case of Democrats winning an election as it was a case of Republicans losing one. And that makes it harder to swallow.

Republicans lost because we forgot who we were. We were supposed to be the small-government, low taxes party. We got the "low taxes" part right but we forgot about that all-important "small-government" aspect. In doing so, we angered and infuriated our base, many of whom decided that divided government was a better and more effective way of achieving small-government goals than was electing Republicans.

The blame for this has to go to the top. Speaker Hastert, Majority Leader Boehner and Majority Whip Blunt have been singularly ineffective at presenting a coherent and attractive message to Republicans and to the country at large and governing in accordance with that message. Needless to say, a leadership change is sorely needed and thankfully, it now appears that good people are prepared to help make that change a reality. In the Senate--which being in a pessimistic mood, I anticipate we will lose as well--Majority Leader Frist has been one of the worst floor leaders we have ever seen attempt to take command of Senate proceedings. He will be replaced by a masterful Senate leader in Mitch McConnell. Pity Senator McConnell could not have had a majority to work with.

And then there is President Bush, who has been quite content to govern as a big-government conservative, a philosophical stance that got the GOP to where it is now; staring down the barrel of Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress. For the President to be able to lead a Republican resurgence, he too shall have to come around to a small-government viewpoint. No more bloated federal highway bills. No more NCLB. No more Medicare prescription drug benefits. No more inconstant attention to free trade. Small-government conservatives and right-of-center libertarians did not expect this from a Republican President and a Republican Congress. And they deserve better than what they have gotten.

I could perhaps have accepted this election with something amounting to equanimity if small-government principles had truly been tried and had truly lost. But this was not the case here. Republicans did anything but put their best policy foot forward. And we have no one to blame but ourselves. Again: Democrats did not win this election so much as Republicans lost it. And if you think I am less-than-pleased about that, well, you are right.

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I feel a certain sense of relief. As noted in other posts, our part of the electorate has been put in the awkward position of defending positions that are hard for conservatives to swallow. Perhaps we (the base) are now in a stronger position to push the agenda instead of following the leader.

The longer we dwell on our misfortunes the greater is their power to harm us - Voltaire

needless to say i am recomending this diary. you also forgot to mention the center-left small government democrats though. we do exist...although our numbers are at the endangered species level nowadays. most of us are now center right libertarians it seems. i honestly didn't expect there to be this big of a loss for the republicans so if i must eat crow tell me and i will grab the steak sauce...

"Suppose you were a congressman, and suppose you were an idiot. But I repeat myself." - Mark Twain

but if it was there i would...

"Suppose you were a congressman, and suppose you were an idiot. But I repeat myself." - Mark Twain

It's not what happens to us, but how we respond...

Was the first great misstep. It should serve as a message to the party that its better to have a little piece of something than a big piece of nothing.

It seems we are always on the defensive. We will always be if we are playing their game. New leadership, with a new vision and new mission, will put them on the defensive. Back to basic conservative principles.

But that was also an example of infighting between factions in the party. Some people in the GOP were happy with Earles actions.

How about the Permutter/O'Donnell race in CO? There you had a movement conservative and think-tank veteran full of big ideas (like privitizing social security). He was crushed in a seat that had been recently redrawn to make it more Republican.

How about JD Hayworth in AZ? He was an outspoken conservative with a perfect voting record.

This whole disaster began shortly after the 2004 election when Bush's first initiative was to partially privitize social security. Just what your "small government conservatives and right-of-center libertarians" had at the very top of their wish list.

Bush's proposal was written primarily by former employees or scholars affiliated with the Cato Institute's project of Social Security Privitization.

The one issue that could have won this issue for the GOP was a real effort to stop illegal immigration. But that won't happen because the vast majority of the party and the country that would a tough approach does not control the GOP. The Bush/corporate elite/WSJ/libertarian tail wags the GOP dog.

Jeff Flake was re-elected with 74% (no D opponent but even so that seems like a very resounding show of support). So I don't think you can cherry pick specific races where other factors besides big/small government might have played a role - either local issues we're not familiar with or national issues aside from spending and government growth. Some fiscally disciplined incumbants were re-elected, some were not...

The privatization battle was never joined. As soon as the Democrats started spinning it, the Republicans caved.

What was missing was Tony Snow.
Evil men hide from the truth, but good men stand upon it.

criticize him all you want. bash him if you must. but show respect for the office! It is President Bush when speaking of the president!

See The World In HinzSight!
Political HinzSight

English only won in Arizona with 72% of the vote. Why didn't any Republican run on this issue?

Show me the race where somone lost for not being conservative enough? There are probably a few. The moderates in the Northeast went down because of the NATIONAL party not because of anything to do with them. If George Bush and the congressional leadership were popular, Nancy Johnson would have won easily. But CT voters hate national Republicans.

The best example is Missouri: If Talent had run to the right he would have lost by more. He got absolutely crushed among independents. He got the base. But he got crushed by Democrats (obviously) and independents.

Greetings Pejman.

No more inconstant attention to free trade.

Please consider removing free trade from your list. Whatever kind of position that is, it is not a conservative position; nor is it, nor in any foreseeable future will be, an issue which unites Republicans as a party. The other issues you listed are the ones which unite is. The trade issue is the one which most clearly divides us.

My harp is turned to mourning, and my organ shall speak with the voice of them that weep. Spare me, O Lord, for my days are truly as nothing.

Which is why I will continue to push for free trade. It is an engine of prosperity. I prefer it to engines of ruin and coincidentally enough, if I stop pushing for free trade, I allow those in favor of the protectionist engine of ruin to drive policy. Since I am not a Sherrod Brown fan, I shall refrain then from biting my tongue on this issue.

"At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid." --Friedrich Nietzsche

It easily can be proven that free trade is bad for the economy. The simple model of gains from trade only works if externalities, positive and negative, don't exist.

In fact that's wrong. A smart country will protect the high positive externality industries and open up the others.

You free trade purests can go ahead and pretend that we don't suffer when unskilled Americans are put up to compete with unskilled Chinese. But I bet you don't live in a mill town.

Consumers get slightly cheaper clothing, but as taxpayers and as citizens we have to deal with entire regions being devistated by factory closures.

But the laws of economics are similarly immutable. And in the long run, even those who lose jobs end up benefiting mightily thanks to free trade. Incidentally, I don't ever want to be caught making the argument that people should not be able to buy valuable goods cheaply. It is a sine qua non that when two countries trade freely, everyone wins.

"At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid." --Friedrich Nietzsche

The "free" in "free trade" assumes some things about the economic landscape that may not necessarily be true in China. For instance, remember that China pegs its currency to the dollar. It could be argued that this makes actual free trade with them well nigh impossible, regardless of what our own policies are.

Thank you for the reply. I hope that you will not be angry if I disagree. I do not know why Sherrod Brown opposes free trade. I oppose it because the classic Pareto exchange theory that supports it completely fails to predict the large trade deficits and the steady deindustrialization the United States has in fact been experiencing, consistently and in increasing degree, since about 1973; and also because the United States historically became the richest country in the world under a high-tariff system. At some point one must admit that free-trade theory describes some other reality, not the one we actually live in.

Unlike Maggie K., I do not know what is wrong with the Pareto exchange free-trade theory. The theory does make sense to me, and I am somewhat surprised that it does not seem to work as advertised. However, I also know the difference between theory and experience, and I know that, when experience consistently over three decades runs against the theory, then it is time to reconsider the theory.

Few if any rational people today would deny that free trade produces low prices at Wal-Mart, or pretend that such low prices were not, in and of themselves, a blessing to the American consumer -- which is to say, a blessing to the American people. However, free-trade theory never originally claimed that it were possible in the long term for a country to manufacture less and less and less, and remain wealthy in the long term. Some economists do so assert today, but is this not a sign of desperation? Is it not because it is logically necessary so to assert, to defend a theory to which they are emotionally attached? One does not mind emotional attachment, of course, but one would prefer emotional attachment to the honest American worker over emotional attachment to the unreal abstraction which free trade is.

The name of Ross Perot is not a passport to the favor of Republicans, nor should it be; but Mr. Perot was not wrong about everything, and I think that we are now learning that he was not wrong when he said, "We want to be a country that makes things."

Pejman, I would like to ask you to consider this. You and I will agree that the federal government should be small, but that it should nevertheless exist. If the federal government to operate must raise revenue in one way or another, and if the revenue must come from the substance of the American people one way or another, then how does it not make sense to reduce the income tax and to make up the difference with a tariff? I do not mean this question in any deeply theoretical, highly mathematical sense; I mean it in a very practical sense: how does it not make sense? Remember, you and I and other Americans must pay some taxes one way or another; why not in a way which supports American manufacturing?

There is a deep national question at stake as to whether America still values national self-sufficiency as such, or if the only good to be sought after is the lowest possible price at Wal-Mart. If conservatism is at heart a disposition to balance, a disposition not always to pursue any one good at the expense of others; if conservatives believe that it matters whether ordinary American fathers have jobs available to them which allow them to support a family securely and in dignity on one income; if conservatism worries when the nation must rely on imported parts to replenish its armaments; then I would suggest that the ideological commitment to free trade is something that Republicans ought to revisit. And, Sherrod Brown or no Sherrod Brown, I would suggest that the time to revisit it is now.

However, free-trade theory never originally claimed that it were possible in the long term for a country to manufacture less and less and less, and remain wealthy in the long term.

Is it the case that the US manufactures less and less?

One who is factually mistaken should admit it. I, too.

Is it the case that the US manufactures less and less?

Evidently it is not the case. I am no economist, but if one takes the numbers at


at their face value -- and I know of no reason not to do so -- then it appears that the U.S. manufactures more and more. I appreciate the correction.

In particular the figures listed here:


As of 2006 Q3 we get output figures of:

166.3 for the non-farm business sector (this can serve as our economy-wide benchmark)

151.9 for the manufacturing sector overall

188.4 for durable manufactures

115.5 for non-durable manufactures.

In other words, it appears to be only non-durable manufactures where the US isn't keeping up.

Few people will now be reading such an old thread -- and few of these, perhaps, will be interested in such a technical post as this -- but adjusting for inflation and population growth per


from January 1992 (the oldest year on the chart referenced in my last post) through January 2006 gives a real average per-capita annual growth in U.S. industrial output of 0.34 percent.

Now, you should not trust my figures, because I am not an economist and I have little experience using these raw U.S. Commerce Department data; but if my calculations in response to the Australian correspondent are right, then although growth in U.S. manufacturing is anemic, I was incorrect to describe it as negative. In no sense does it appear to be correct to say that "the U.S. manufactures less and less." I should have said, "the U.S. is falling behind in manufacturing" (and if you want figures on that one, I fear that you will have to go generate them yourself; I have researched enough for today! The links I gave should give you a good place to start). The latter statement would have been more correct.

You're correct, I think, that the election represented the electorate's rejection of "big government conservatism." And as a liberal Democrat, I can think of nothing I'd rather see than a return of the Republican party to the sort of small government view you're promoting.

You'll find, just as "small government conservatives" have found consistently, that it will assure the Republican party the minority status it deserves. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The country needs a minority party to serve as a critic of government efforts to resolve social problems. It needs a party that will point out waste and excessive intrusion in people's lives. Such a party can't really "govern" since it is largely devoted to NOT governing, but it serves a useful purpose, nonetheless.

Good luck.

and I say that rarely, this might be the first time, to self-identified liberals.

People like swag. Giving out swag (aka pork when it doesn't go to your constituents) helps keep you in office. Small government is a loser of a campaign platform.

All the swag and pork didn't seem to help the incumbants who were voted out. Instead it helped create a sense that (R) congresspersons were no better than (D)'s had been when it came to fiscal discipline. Now you can argue that this really is a misperception, that (D)'s will be worse, etc. But the (R)'s could have very easily kept that misperception from occuring by at minimum not increasing the number and cost of earmarks so much over the past few years.

That said, I think the best way to gauge whether there are any trends involving either backlash against (as I speculate) or support for (as you and the previous commentor speculate) pork spending is to check the CAGW congressional scorecards and the state-by-state pork dollar amounts and look to see if the data support either viewpoint.

The other frustrating thing for me is seeing a narrow view of what small government means. If you go out and tell people "we're not going to spend any more money on your states, tough luck - we're for small government", you're probably not going to get traction. If you can explain how your intent is to reduce federal spending, reduce taxes in a like amount, and leave that money at the state/local level in the hands of the citizens, then it doesn't look like a loss. It looks like government doing less, and citizens keeping more.

I think the (R)'s lost a golden opportunity to tie reduced spending with reduced taxation and to point out the obvious connection between the two in the minds of the electorate. Less pork = less taxes. Fewer redundant or pointless government programs = less taxes. Instead their actions said that we'll lower your taxes, and we'll shovel more money your way. And they were still voted out.

to an extent but you seem to ignore all the Dem porkers who were re-elected.

I was politically aware when Reagan took office in 1981. I remember how far the talk of shutting down programs got. So call me cynical.

It simply does not follow that by being an advocate of small government, one cannot and will not achieve power. Though I am happy to have "a liberal Democrat" think so. It will be all the easier to pull a 1980 or a 1994 on all of you. And those elections were won on small government principles, it should be needless to say.

"At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid." --Friedrich Nietzsche

Root canal Republicanism, massive cuts to programs, doesn't work. It loses elections. Even President Reagan at the height of his popularity was only able to do limited cutting; conservatives resigned from his administration because of the lack of spending cuts.

Although it is a nice enough general slogan, the Democrats will eat us for lunch if we try it to actually do it. In fact they already said that is their #1 weapon, that the Republicans in Congress and White House can't even imagine what is coming at them in the next budget.

We could use the gimmick of McCain and others, to cut a few pork barrel programs, while supporting and adding massive entitlements. The voters want that. As one senator put it, "Cut programs but not MY programs".

The only realistic solution to shrink entitlements is what private industry is doing to retirement programs by moving them to 401k. That is to start a tax free saving account, letting the voters put money in it, then wiping out the old entitlement. That's the only realistic way to make progress.

No one would be happier than me if one morning the whole country woke up and decided they wanted small government. But until then, it is a loser.

The fundamental problem is that almost all the money is in a few wildly popular programs like social security. The outrageous examples of Senators funding libraries named after their dogs or making bridges to nowhere don't add up to real money.

No one would be happier than me if one morning the whole country woke up and decided they wanted small government. But until then, it is a loser.

Let me give you a concrete example, and I don't pick on these for any reason other than they're a very obvious and simple example to relate to the electorate: faith based charity initiatives. The Federal government is spending some amount of our tax dollars, doling them out to charities that a Federal department decides on. A move to elimitate these programs and their controlling department and at the same time reduce the tax burden by an equal amount as what was being spent is what?

(a) a reduction in the size of government
(b) a reduction in government-controlled spending
(c) an increase in the amount of money people keep to direct as they see fit
(d) all of the above

The problem comes in connecting reduced government with reduced taxes, which is something the last Congress didn't do, in my opinion. I say, start with some low hanging fruit like earmarks, minor programs and departments, and so on, make this case repeatedly, demonstrate that it works by frequently reducing spending and taxes at the same time, and eventually the electorate understands the concept - at that point it could get a lot easier to build support for the kinds of reforms SS could undergo. Those reforms are a little more complicated than the simple "cut spending/cut taxes" mechanism that applies to smaller programs, but the principle at play is the same, and it's this principle that needs to be sold to the electorate. When they understand how it works, I believe they'll buy into it - because in the end, it does end up letting them keep more of their money, but they keep it in their pocket, it doesn't turn into a d**med fruit museum 4 blocks down the street they may never visit!

That is a commonly used and good tactic, part of the "pay go" concept that everything is paid for / offset. So a tax cut is paid for by spending cuts. Sometimes this works for the "smaller programs" which are mentioned.

However there are two main problems. The first is that the public usually hears sound bites in a attack ad, not the truth. So instead of hearing about the combined tax cut / spending cut which lets people keep their own money, they hear Hillary or Chuck Schumer saying that Republican Senator So and So voted to "cut spending for children" or the elderly or veterans. The Democrats used this tool many, many times in the past and have already said that Republicans will be stunned at the way the budget is used against them in the new Congress. I still remember some of the phony smears against Reagan, that he cut lunch for school children, "gutted" spending for the elderly, etc.

The second problem is that most of the money goes into a few hugely popular programs like social security. Bush already tried to change it, and failed. Seniors who live on social security don't pay taxes so they can't be told that if their social security checks are stopped, that their taxes will go down. The same is true for medicare and medicaide.

It's probably a good idea for Republicans to symbolically attack some offensive little spending programs which don't really add up to anything, the bridges to nowhere. But it won't have any real impact on the size of government because those programs are too tiny. It is just a political gimmick.

This brings back bad memories from the past. Democrats talking about Republicans "trying to balance the budget on the back of the poor". I can remember one Democratic congressman on the floor of the House, an African-American who was also a preacher. Speaking of the Republicans he sang out in a rhythm like a sermon, "They're coming for the poor. They're coming for the sick. They're coming for the seniors. They're coming for the children." The liberal media, now called MSM, had interviews with some of the people whose benefits would allegedly be cut. The MSM even said their goal was to "put a face on it [the cuts]". That way the viewers would see how the Republicans (supposedly) cut money to that nice single mother with the two young children. Even slowing down the rate of growth was called a "cut", and Republicans were said to be "gutting" the veteran's budget, etc.

Being in the congressional minority is hell and I see a long road ahead of us.

So a tax cut is paid for by spending cuts.

I'd prefer to think of it as a spending cut being rewarded with a tax cut for the people. It places the objective goal as cutting wasteful spending and the benefit outcome as lower taxes (and the beneficiary as the people) as opposed to making a tax cut the objective goal and enabling it through a spending cut, which I think as you point out can be a tougher sell.

However there are two main problems. The first is that the public usually hears sound bites in a attack ad, not the truth.

As the majority party, (R)'s squandered the high ground and a chance to control the message, IMO. You can blame the media all you want, but Fox News is remarkably sympathetic to (R)'s and has a huge viewership, last I heard larger than the other cable news stations combined. But if you're saying that (R)'s can't outwit (D)'s on this matter - by careful selection of obviously wasteful spending, by vetting all the facts, by getting their story out first, then what you're basically saying is (R)'s just can't compete. So why not throw in the towel. I don't accept this - maybe this was true of the final composition of the (R) majority but Congress in the mid 90's appeared to control spending, create a surplus, and as far as I know, actually reduced the size of government by close to 2 million jobs. Feel free to argue to what degree this was the (R) congress versus Clinton, perhaps it was some of both, but the instructive point here is that even with a (D) president, that Congress was obviously doing things a heck of a lot different from the one that just got the boot. That congress got itself re-elected a few times, by the way.

But it won't have any real impact on the size of government because those programs are too tiny. It is just a political gimmick.

I'll keep disagreeing with this sentiment. Too much self-fulfilling prophecy. Jumping in and claiming to be able to fix the massive entitlements hasn't worked for (D)'s (on healthcare) or (R)'s (on Social Security). Maybe part of what's lacking is trust that the reformers can actually manage change and downsizing in a way that works. It has to start somewhere, and there are plenty of wasteful candidates available to demonstrate one's fiscal discipline. And you know what, when you talk like that it just belies the common sense that Americans are going to use to judge an official's capabilities and motives. I think they want government officials who effectively manage every penny, the way most of them have to, and in a manner consistent with the way the corporations they invest in do.

I can't believe I'm defending small government on a conservative site.

First of all, our current out of control spending is financed by borrowing from the Chinese. This is doing serious long term damage to our stategic position.

Second, big government inevitably leads to higher taxes.

Thirdly, the American system is designed to be safe and resistant to tyranny but is not and never will be particularly efficient. To make big government work you need a parliamentary system. Our system works when we keep government small.

Fourthly, the built-in tendencies of government towards corruption and waste become far worse when it does not have to constantly justify it's existence to the small government crowd.

Fifthly, government attracts people who need power and they drive the whole system towards tyranny unless someone stops them. Big government = less freedom.

I could go on but I don't have the time.

Total federal spending grew at an annual rate of 4.6% per year during Bush's first term. For comparison, the annual growth rate was 1.5% under Clinton, 1.9% under the first president Bush, 2.6% under Reagan, and 2.0% under Carter. Republicans never the less did quite well in the 2002 and 2004 elections, so I don't think that you can attribute the losses in 2006 to the Republicans' embrace of big government.

You could make the same kind of argument for Iraq. The war was ongoing in 2002 and 2004 and the R's did quite well, so obviously Iraq wasn't a factor in 2006. I don't think that's a sound argument - re: Iraq, or smaller government.

The likely case is that a combination of factors played into it, and those factors have been exacerbated over time to the point that the wave broke, or whatever.

You also have to segment the effect out. What got D's and I's to the polls voting D? Probably more of the Iraq factor. What kept R's from the polls or what made some former R votes switch to D (or L)? Perhaps more of the corruption and big government factor. These are guesses but I think they're reasonable speculation - I guess exit poll data would indicate what the factors were among the segments... unfortunately I fear these exit polls never really have any question on them related to big vs small government, do they?

The situation in Iraq changed between the elections. In 2002, the war had not started. In 2004, it was unclear whether holding elections in Iraq (which were scheduled for January 2005) would turn things around.

In contrast, the Republican commitment to big government has been clear throughout Bush's tenure, so it's not a new reason to vote against Republicans.

I take your point about there being a combination of factors. As you say, to really settle the question we need polling data on the big/small government issue. I searched before posting this, and couldn't find any.

In contrast, the Republican commitment to big government has been clear throughout Bush's tenure, so it's not a new reason to vote against Republicans.

These things can build up. Where in 2004 people's trust in the (R)'s on Iraq may have overshadowed anger over bigger government, in 2006 the latter became a force too powerful, along with the general perception of corruption.

This and this are both more recent posts that include polling data indicating people did want smaller government. The letters posted here from Pence and others seem to indicate they also feel the failure to live up to limited/smaller government principles was a problem that needs swift correction. So I do think there's evidence out there to support it, now.

....and big government "conservatives" threw it all away in 2006.

When you go down the big government road you start handing out lots of favors to various interest groups. That then leads you into corruption. The Abramoff/Delay/Cunningham corruption problems cost Republicans plenty in this election.

Big government is corrupt government.

power tends to corrupt

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