What do the Beltway moderates actually want?

Centrist thinkers keep begging Barack Obama to pursue "bipartisan" goals he already supports

Topics: Politics, Republican Party, David Brooks, Lanny Davis, Michael Steele, Editor's Picks,

What do the Beltway moderates actually want? Michael Steele, Barack Obama, David Brooks (Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/AP/Carolyn Kaster/Nam Y. Huh)

As David Brooks taught us last week, Barack Obama’s cunning plan to sabotage and undermine the Republican Party is to repeatedly force them to act as extremist and irresponsible as possible by proposing popular and sensible things that they refuse to support. By advocating gun control and immigration reform, two things Obama supports because he and most liberals believe them to be morally and politically necessary, Obama is tricking Republicans into revealing that they are dysfunctional, leaderless, and increasingly divided into two camps: the all-out crazies and the merely corrupt. This saddens David Brooks, naturally, because most things seem to sadden David Brooks, America’s Foremost Humility Expert.

But as the president begins his second term, I thought it’d be useful to try to figure out what “moderate Republican” columnists and “pox on both houses” centrists actually want the president to be doing.

How would we go about identifying the sorts of policies that would qualify as bipartisan, uncontroversial and capable of uniting America around a common goal again? Well, there are Brooks’ suggestions, which are mostly things Barack Obama has already repeatedly announced his support for. As Jonathan Chait pointed out, these suggestions are either things that have already been done or things that Republicans would just not support if Obama proposed them again.

We could also look, for guidance, to longtime Washington insiders Lanny Davis and Michael Steele, who have been fulsomely praised by much of the Beltway press for putting aside their political differences and joining together to … make a lot of money as lobbyists. Their “strategic communications” firm. (“Strategic communications” is P.R.-speak for “doing P.R. for politicians, athletes, corporations, institutions or dictators that have recently been discovered to have done something unbelievably horrible.”)

Recently, Davis and Steele were interviewed — for the five-hundredth time, I believe — by Howard Kurtz, at a nuclear industry-sponsored “breakfast-cum-panel discussion titled ‘The Media and Beltway Gridlock.’” It took place, appropriately, on K Street, which is to lobbying what Fleet Street is to British newspapers. Usually in Washington the alternative to “gridlock” is “policy crafted according to the wishes of groups rich enough to hire people like Lanny Davis and Michael Steele.”

Davis contended media outlets aren’t doing enough to cover the areas on which Republicans and Democrats find common ground. He asked Kurtz whether he can get “column inches” for such stories, to which Kurtz replied that he can get column inches for any damn story he likes.

You Might Also Like

Yes, the media never covers the times when Democrats and Republicans all agree on stuff, and that is why no one knows we invaded Iraq. (Though, to be fair, no one — outside of the Internet — did really cover our most recent bipartisan success story, the reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act.)

And what three policy areas did Lanny Davis identify as “common ground” between the parties? Immigration reform, gun control and global warming. Three issues, that is, that effectively define the wildly different domestic policy priorities of the current Democratic and Republican parties.

Rich, moderate Republicans support immigration reform. The party itself does not, as George W. Bush learned. Gun control is “bipartisan” in the sense that a large number of Democrats share the entire Republican Party’s fanatical opposition to it. Republicans do not believe global warming is real, and even if they did they would not support any measures to halt it. (Though Davis simply brought up global warming to pimp nuclear power — did I mention who sponsored this little breakfast panel?)

Of course, if the rich, moderate Republicans want to actually accomplish “bipartisan” problem-solving legislation, they are focusing all of their attention on the completely wrong person. The problem is that the Republicans in the House are effectively a leaderless band of radical malcontents with no clue how to effectively pursue their horrible goals. As Dan Drezner writes:

Like the revolutionaries in Stephen Walt’s Revolution and War, the current crop of GOP elites seem to believe that loud, repeated affirmations of their preferences will simply and eventually steamroll Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and the American people into acceptance of their policy platform. One would have thought that the aftermath of the 2011 debt ceiling fight, the 2012 election, the fiscal cliff negotiations, and the superstorm Sandy relief bill would have led to some earning. But it hasn’t. And that’s the scariest fact of all.

The one topic all good centrists and moderates agree on is deficit reduction. Specifically, it has to be deficit reduction accomplished by cutting Social Security and Medicare. And that would be accomplished in 10 minutes if the GOP hadn’t decided that it made more sense to wish very hard for severe social insurance cuts than to actually pass the less-severe ones the Democratic president effectively offered to give them.

In other words I guess I am pro-gridlock, if it means people like David Brooks, Lanny Davis and Michael Steele don’t get their way.

Alex Pareene
Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>