Posted by Brad @ 2:26 pm on August 28th 2012

The Faces and the Arguments of the Parties

As the conventions are now beginning and the general election will be, momentarily, officially underway, I wanted to at least have posted this once, for posterity. I’d like to just take what might be the last chance to pull the camera back for a moment.

There are a few things, in the heat of September/October, that you will know to be true of this election.

It is the Most Important Election in recent memory/history. It will be the Most Negative Campaign in recent memory/history. The other guys will be the Most Dangerous Candidates ever seen in recent memory/history. We are at a Critical Point/Crossroads, and the decision we make this November will have uniquely impactful consequences in either preserving, advancing, or redefining What America Means.

At some point, most of us, particularly those with partisan leanings/behaviors, will have a hard time fathoming how any reasonable person could possibly Obama/Romney – they are clearly objectively wrong/insane/bad! The central platform of the mainstream spectrum of both parties, as represented by the candidates, will not only seem like something you disagree with, but as almost a form of mental illness – something objectively insane, and you will wonder how any person could POSSIBLY support them without being stupid, malicious, corrupt, or any combination thereof. You will also find, within both parties, campaigns, and philosophies, many objectionable and risible things – and your estimation of their centrality to the true “agenda” of that candidate and the true likelihood of their impact if your guy loses will usually correlate pretty strongly to how objectionable or risible you find them.

All that will be true for most of us – I count myself in that number.

More specifically, this has been a political moment in our country wherein both sides view the others as some kind of space aliens. On the one hand you have Obama, who just doesn’t seem American at all (across the full spectrum of that position, from “doesn’t share our values” to “wasn’t born here”). We have been told time and time again about how radical he is, how his entire political philosophy can be read not by his record or stated intentions, but rather as being borne of some weird combination of socialism, anti-colonialism, elitist intellectual snobbery, black liberation theology, hatred of capitalism and private enterprise, etc. etc. So, there’s that.

We’ve also had the Tea Party, and the Republican movement/reaction that was borne when the dark cloud of the Bush years passed in a moment of stimulus and bailouts. We have been told time and time again that these people don’t have ideas so much as racism and knee-jerk reactionism. We have been told time and time again how radical Republicanism has become, animated not by its stated agenda or record but by but by a weird mix of neo-confederatism, Christianist theocracy, right wing militiasm, vigorous anti-science ignorance, corporate cronyism and fat cat astroturfing, etc. etc. Obviously, any Republican running is a slave to this.

We will see many data points in support of both those views, and depending what set of glasses you’re wearing, data set X will seem like crazy over-reaches, out-of-context bastardizations, or deliberate lies, while data set Y will seem clearly reasonable, direct line connections, and besides I’m just asking questions.

Before I continue, I should add that I am not one that tends towards the fair and balanced approach, or beholden to any generalized tendency towards false equivalency. On discrete issues, I often (though not always), think there is a right and a wrong, and I think in many (though not all) cases, one side really IS acting like bigger bastards/lunatics and proffering worse ideas or more untruths than the other. But I do want to pull the camera back for a moment, and since we’re on the eve of the RNC specifically, and spend most of time/energy criticizing Republicans (from either without or within), I’d like to speak to them specifically.

Over the next two days, the Republican campaign will kick off by marquee speeches by the following (top two speakers for each night):

Chris Christie
Ann Romney
Susana Martinez
Paul Ryan
Marco Rubio
Mitt Romney

This is following a primary season when the following candidates or figures all appeared, at one point or another, in play:

Sarah Palin
Donald Trump
Michelle Bachmann
Herman Cain
Ron Paul
Rick Perry
Newt Gingrich
Rick Santorum

It is indeed worth noting that these people were all at one point considered (although to what extent they were considered by actual voters versus primarily as media-driven candidacies is something we can argue about).

But the important point here is all were considered, and summarily rejected, by Republican voters. And instead of that list, the party has chosen, amongst themselves, to go with that first slate. I suspect many people will remember primarily that second list, throwing in a host of other figures (Rep. Akin, currently), and will read the Republican party as clearly belonging to them.

But I would like you to again look at the first list. And again remember that, when the fat lady sung, those are the people who are representing the Republican Party in 2012. When it came down to it, the following are the faces of the GOP in this campaign:

Chris Christie
Ann Romney
Susana Martinez
Paul Ryan
Marco Rubio
Mitt Romney

And if you’d like to go down the list of notable surrogates and other speakers, again, here it is.

These people are not lunatics. These people are not demagogues. These are, by and large, serious, qualified, well-intentioned, intelligent people with specific, articulatable, and perfectly reasonable ideas about how America should be run. And, in Romney and Ryan, they are both smart, serious candidates by any measure qualified to run the country. All four men at the top of these tickets pass any smell test you can muster regarding being qualified to be President.

That’s not to say there isn’t much in that vision to disagree with. But it is to say, for many of us, the Face of the Party is whoever the boogeyman figure of the day is, and he’s the one who REALLY represents what “they” all stand for.

And that’s fine, and you can argue that, but you can’t, I think, do it without at least recognizing who the ACTUAL faces of the party are, as selected by the top of the ticket, the national party, and the grassroots voters who elected them.

And they are, again:

Chris Christie
Ann Romney
Susana Martinez
Paul Ryan
Marco Rubio
Mitt Romney

There is extremism in both parties, of course. But my point here is to at least pause for a moment before our partisan instincts and passionate political philosophies take over, to recognize that what this campaign represents is not Truth vs. Evil, or Pragmatism vs. Extremism, or Reality-Based vs. Deceitful Demagogues. There will, of course, be plenty of that.

But by and large, this campaign consists of those kinds of men and women representing above. And largely, the platforms on both sides are perfectly thoughtful, reasonable cases to make at this moment. There will be many, many 24-hour-news-cycles about peripheral things that suddenly become totally central in the heat of the moment and the glare of the spotlight – gaffes, “this guy didn’t denounce this other guy that said this”, small issues that are true in their own right but will suddenly seem like the central platform on which the guy is running, etc. But by and large, we know what the kernel of the argument is about, and both sides have completely reasonable, mature cases to make.

The Obama administration will argue that, to generate economic security and prosperity, government needs to step in to fill the gap that private enterprise either can’t, won’t, doesn’t want to, or is openly hostile towards. That a purely capitalistic society runs the danger of becoming mercenary, but that government exists to give everybody a fair playing field, to give voice to the voiceless, and to protect against the dangers of Big Business or the wealthy preying on those who lack the means to fight back on the same level. They will argue that we all need to sacrifice some – and those of us with more sacrifice ought to be asked to sacrifice more – for the sake of ensuring those values are upheld.

The Romney/Ryan ticket will argue that our path has become unsustainable. That, in an era of states and cities going bankrupt, entire European nations going down, and an economic recession based on bubble economics, that we can no longer blind ourselves to making choices, and that attempting to have your cake and eat it to is an illusion we can no longer afford. That it is time to make difficult choices, or we tempt the same fate. They will argue that government is ill-equipped to “solve for” market failures that, in many cases, previous “solve for”s probably created in the first place, that doing so will only continue pushing the snowball faster and further down the hill resulting in much more pain and suffering once it hits the bottom, and that the time has come to divest ourselves of the notion that government is equipped enough, capable enough, or well-meaning enough to take choices away from us and make them more intelligently, compassionately, or efficiently.

There are many, many, many side issues to those core arguments, or course, and depending on where your own passions lie, you will in all likelihood “hear” those issues louder than they’re actually being communicated, and you will judge them as more important or likely to be in play as they actually are – and that’s fine. That the voting calculus we all make. You can also quibble with my representations of their arguments, for sure – that’s just a free association version of it – but I think it’s a fair off-the-cuff representation, and one that both campaigns would agree with as their central message.

But I do want to highlight, in addition to that speaker list, those two core arguments, which both campaigns have clearly and explicitly articulated as the main things that THEY care about, that they would care about if elected, and that they would seek to represent in law and governance. In other words, just as we might like to argue abut who the faces REALLY are, so too will we like to argue about what the arguments REALLY are. But, as with the faces, I think, to even begin to make that argument, you have to begin by acknowledging what the ACTUAL argument is – as in the stated and not-hard-to-discern central justifications for both candidacies. What’s actually kind of refreshing about this election, is it really does boil down to two fairly straight-forward, non-obfuscated, and primary arguments that both candidates clearly believe is the central promise of their campaigns. We don’t particularly have to guess, or to read tea leaves, or whatever. Just as it with the faces of the party, the argument of the campaigns is right there, in front of us.

And, like the faces, neither of their arguments are objectively insane. They are both perfectly thoughtful, intelligent, and well-intentioned cases. Neither is demagoguery or deceit – neither is extreme or evil. They both have their merits, and their potential blind spots, and reasonable people, both with the best interests of the country at hard, can reasonably and thoughtfully disagree on them. And there will be plenty of other issues on which to argue, around the edges, which is after all where much if not most of policy comes in anyway.

But as the general election kicks off, I thought it worth explicitly recognizing that neither party is being lead by extremists or charlatans, and that both campaigns are running on clear-eyed, well-intentioned core arguments. For all our fears about whichever side we dislike more, the system, by and large, has worked, and both parties have proffered a mature, intelligent, and honestly-arrived-at choice for us to consider.

This isn’t a reality you’ll find much represented in the coming months. So let’s take a moment to recognize it explicitly, before jumping back into the fray about how beyond-the-pale extreme, insane, evil, stupid, dishonest, or potentially devastating Candidate/Party/Ideology/Campaign X is.

11 Comments »

  1. I’m still amazed at my capacity to be amazed at Andrew Sullivan’s wild swings, but his blog has once again nigh-on unreadable, and although he keeps saying it, any semblance of what might be considered conservatism, even by his admirably flexible definition, is more or less gone. Anything proposed to scale back the government is either a lie, extremist, or hypocrisy. Anything proposed to NOT scale back the government is a complete abandonment of principle. And Romney/Ryan are the most extreme candidates heading the most extreme party in history, and not pretty mild-mannered technocrats in the heat of a campaign running almost more on a tonal platform with a generalized desire (but no real reform agenda) to slow the expansion of government.

    I sent this to him to maybe at least get a dissent of the day going. But he’s gone waaay down the rabbit hole this cycle. Again, to my eyes, this is a pretty reasonable election – and compared to 2000-2008, amazingly centrist; moderate, even – in both content and rhetoric. But apparently it is instead about the desire to throw us into a Depression, nuke Iran, put crazed theocrats in charge, and roll back all social safety net to a pre-New Deal state.

    Comment by Brad — 8/30/2012 @ 6:13 pm

  2. Funny you say that because, I feel exactly the opposite. This blog has become largely unreadable to me. I mostly return to read Jack’s commentary and register a silent, “amen.”

    Comment by tessellated — 8/30/2012 @ 9:46 pm

  3. Aw, c’mon guys, be fair. Can’t we BOTH be unreadable?

    Comment by Rojas — 8/30/2012 @ 10:09 pm

  4. Well to be fair there’s not a lot of regular content to unread.

    Comment by Brad — 8/30/2012 @ 10:48 pm

  5. I would comment more but I can’t think and type as fast as Brad, so I am at a major disadvantage. Hell I can’t even read his whole post before I see a squirrel and lose focus.

    Comment by Jack — 8/31/2012 @ 9:12 am

  6. I think this election has gone off the rails. This “post truth” thing resonates with me. The false equivalence “he said she said” dichotomy that the media has fallen into has allowed politicians to go from what once would have been merely distorted framing, cherry picking, and gross exagerations, to now being able to just say straight out lies, brazenly and repeatedly. The entire Ryan speech is an excellent example. The attacks on Obama (welfare gutting, apology tour, abandoning our allies, etc etc) and the incredible wiping away of a decade of history leaves me gaping at them in horror. And this in a time when there are conservative arguments to be made about the President’s performance.

    So no, I don’t think this is a reasonable election season. I think the GOP lost its damn mind when Obama got elected, and completely abandoned all the ideas that those reasonable conservatives put forth in the immediate aftermath of Bush and November 2008 (“wither goest conservatism” remember that?) You take it is a wonderful indication of sanity that they did not elect one of the crazies to be the GOP candidate. I take it as a sign of deep trouble that so many freaking nutjobs and poseurs where major front runners over the course of the entire primary season, and now that that Mitt is the settled nominee, he has taken all the craziest nonsense and owned it.

    Beyond the presidential candidate, the GOP is also furiously constructing anti-immigrant and voter suppression initiatives across the country.

    Comment by Jack — 8/31/2012 @ 9:50 am

  7. Ok. This time I won’t silently say, “amen.” I’m right there with Jack. Furthermore what he says is congruent with the general output of the Dish. Brad’s walls of words are utterly unconvincing. Don’t feel bad, Jack, I don’t read them either. I rely on you for that!

    Comment by tessellated — 8/31/2012 @ 3:26 pm

  8. I guess I just don’t see it. What, precisely, on Romney’s platform strikes you guys are completely radical?

    I’ve been front-and-center bashing Republicans for their insanity since 2003. I voted Democrat in both 2004 and 2008 precisely because I saw George W. Bush and his part as a radical threat that was redefining America. But in this case? Sorry, but Mitt Romney just doesn’t raise the heckles for me. My guess is he’d be a pretty technocratic sort of President too scared to do anything far-reaching. I would grant you that he would be less inclined to federalize everything and more inclined to tighten the screws economically, but from where I’m sitting, that’s a pretty reasonable position to take after a bubble borne largely because of Too Big to Fail and artificial shoring up of housing markets. If your lesson of the European crisis is that the problem that has thrown countries like Italy, Spain, Greece, and Ireland into economic trouble was too much austerity, I guess I honestly just don’t know what to tell you.

    In any event, there are very good reasons, I think, to vote Obama over Romney. But that’s not the same thing as saying Romney represents something stark-raving mad or that the idea that we should be more economically conservative is a kind of objective lunacy. Again, as you say, Republican voters had ample, ample opportunity to double down on the kinds of candidates people always love to attribute them – the Michelle Bachammns of the world. And they, chose, overwhelmingly…Mitt Romney. Of those “major front runners” (in your words) that I listed, a chunk of them didn’t actually run, and the vast majority of them never got any actual support from voters – Rick Santorum is really the only guy that did, but even he was never in any real danger of winning.

    That’s kind of my point. We read that list as “What Republicans Are in 2012”. When, in fact, what they are is, again:

    Chris Christie
    Ann Romney
    Susana Martinez
    Paul Ryan
    Marco Rubio
    Mitt Romney

    Unless you are of the mind that ANY notion of not expanding government is a form of mental illness, that difference in both kind and degree, between that list and the other, matters. If you’re interested in the health of American political conversation, I think that’s worth noting. If you’re only interesting in boogeymanning, then yeah, go find them, I guess.

    And even if you’re coming from the perspective that Republicans OMG are destroying the country, the point is that they make up about half of the country that you share with them. They will therefore make up about half of the people in government at any given time – sometimes more, sometimes less. But in the two party system, they’ll always be the people making about as many critical decisions as your favorite liberal. That’s what I find ironic about the idea that we should federalize stuff, because about half of the federalis will be the people that liberals advocate federalizing stuff to protect against. But my main point is, assuming that Republicans make up roughly that half, you have to share the country with them. They are your neighbors, your local politicians, your national leaders, whether you like it or not. They are going to be, in the long run, as responsible as any politician you happen to like at determining the rules governing your health care.

    And, as I said at the beginning, that they are offering up:

    Chris Christie
    Ann Romney
    Susana Martinez
    Paul Ryan
    Marco Rubio
    Mitt Romney

    Is worth noting, recognizing, and even appreciating.

    It would be more satisfying, perhaps, to just assume that they’re all Rep. Akins. But honestly, presuming that the Republicans in 2012 have to nominate SOMEBODY, it could have been many people. That they chose Mitt Romney and that cast of characters above, versus Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Donald Trump, etc. etc. – is at the very least worth remarking upon. It’s not like Rep. Akin isn’t available.

    Comment by Brad — 9/1/2012 @ 2:38 am

  9. All that said, I’m actually in a weird place, voting wise. I feel like I could literally talk myself into voting for any of the three major candidates (Obama, Romney, Johnson). I voted Democrat in both 2004 and 2008, and was balls-to-the-wall anti-Bush, but this go around I just can’t get too worked up about either Obama or Romney. Obama’s been a fairly decent President, but with a few basic philosophies that I just can’t support and are in fact deal-breakers for me on a few major areas (the role of the federal government in economics, civil liberties, etc). Likewise, Romney’s strikes me as a fairly moderate technocrat, but with enough unknowns and enough negative knowns that probably tells me about all I need to know of him. I have very strong reasons to vote against both guys, but no real strong reasons to vote for either outside of the “The other guy is THE DEVIL!’ bullshit.

    But my hunch is that the election of one or the other wouldn’t make a huge relative difference to the things I deeply care about. America would be basically okay either way – or rather it would be not okay, but in the same way, with either.

    Which normally brings me to my default of voting Libertarian, which is what I’ll probably do, but I’m not too worked up about that this year either. I like Gary Johnson just fine, but he doesn’t quite move me, for a variety of reasons.

    Anyway, endorsement posts this year will be interesting. My default in elections like this is to vote LP, so I probably will, but maybe I’ll do an endorsement post just constricted to Romney-Obama. Mostly so tessellated stops reading.

    Comment by Brad — 9/1/2012 @ 2:56 am

  10. Judging the state of the party based upon a carefully selected list of some of their primetime convention speakers is little like judging the quality of Toyota’s based upon the quality of the cinematography in their latest commercial. I would rather look at all the things they have done and said over the last couple of years, and how the platform reads. Taken as a group or just limiting ourselves to Romney and Ryan, there is a lot of ugly stuff in there. Foreign policy in nearly any area (China, Russia, Iran, Middle East) , social policy and the Ryan voting regard and now “severely” conservative Mitt (e.g.repeal DADT and other NOM-like proposals), Judge selections (more like Bork), fiscal policy (smoke and mirrors proposals that raise defense, cut taxes, and slash the bejeezus out of everything else.) Or the continueing willingness to just lie outright.

    Comment by Jack — 9/1/2012 @ 9:15 am

  11. I am in the weird place of being in perhaps the closest toss up state in the country (FL), and so having second thoughts about plan to vote Gary Johnson as a protest to Obama and the Democrats throwing civil liberties under the bus.

    Comment by Jack — 9/1/2012 @ 9:17 am

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