Thursday :: Mar 16, 2006

Turnin' 'Round the House?

by pessimist

The Washington Post has been looking at the recent polls, and they claim Now is not the best time to be a Republican member of Congress.

The most recent survey, conducted by CNN/USA Today/Gallup from March 10-12, showed Democrats with a 16-point edge -- 55 percent to 39 percent.

"It means that as of mid-March of 2006 this is an electorate that wants to make fundmental change," said Fred Yang, a partner in the Garin-Hart-Yang Research, a leading Democratic polling firm. "Whether that translates into seats is another thing."

[A]ccording to one GOP consultant who spoke to The Fix on the condition of anonymity so he could speak candidly about his party's prospects: "The benefit of the doubt in close races is going to go to the Democrats unless something changes dramatically," said the Republican strategist. "We're whistling past the graveyard if we say the generic doesn't matter."

Charlie Cook, a political analyst and founder of the Cook Political Report, added that the best use of the generic ballot is to "tell you what direction the wind is blowing and whether it is small, medium, large or extra large."

Judging by the current numbers, Republicans better hunker down.

There is another option they might consider.

They can see the light and change party affiliation!

GOP legislator switches to Dems

Two-term Republican Rep. Rodney Tom of Medina said Tuesday he's quitting the Republican Party to run for the state Senate as a Democrat.
"I realized the far right has complete control of the party and for me to be effective for my constituents I need to be a Democrat," Tom said.

There is clearly an element of self-interest in this idiological move:

He said being a Democrat is not only a better fit for the political demographic of the Eastside's 48th Legislative District but a more comfortable fit for his ideology, which includes support for legal abortion, gay rights and higher taxes for transportation.

The GOP doesn't take deserters prisoner - unless they used to be Democrats. In an interview with Ben Nighthorse Campbell, he claims that there are "10 Republicans serving, right now, on the floor of the Senate with me, who used to be Democrats."

"So it wasn't a big deal. I didn't see it as a big deal. So many of them had already changed.

"We can track many instances in American history when history was changed by one vote. Women got the right to vote in America because of one person. He was a state legislator in the state of Tennessee, and that was the last state to ratify that constitutional change. They had a deadlocked vote ... and then one state representative in Tennessee changed his vote. And that vote gave women the right to vote nationwide. And by the way the opponents chased him down the hall, out the window, he climbed to a ledge until the police could get him out of there. And afterward they asked him, why did you change your vote?

"He said 'My mother told me to do the right thing.'"

Doing the right thing - like not taking more money from residents of the Virgin Islands than you do your own constituency in Idaho?

But I digress.

For the Republicans, when a politician goes Dem to GOP - "no big deal" ... "do the right thing". But the GOP response to Rodney Tom changing parties?

State Republican Party Chairwoman Diane Tebelius said Tom should resign his House seat in light of his decision. "Two years ago, voters elected Tom for the second time as a Republican," Tebelius said. "His calculating change of mind as to what party he belongs to demonstrates a lack of credibility and sincerity."

Senator Jim Jeffords has regularly heard the same thing:

Rudolph "Skip" Vallee, the state's GOP national committeeman, said Jeffords should have done the "honorable thing": resign his seat and run as an independent in a special election. "This is not in the interest of Vermont. We have a Republican president, and this isn't going to help us get things for our state," Vallee said.

And Charles Handy, a Burlington business owner and real estate investor, said he considers Jeffords "a quitter."

"I feel like I've been punched in the stomach," said James Johnston, a Montpelier undertaker and long-time Jeffords political confidant and fundraiser. "I think this does a real disservice to all the colleagues he has served with. He's made 49 Republican enemies."

He's still hearing it:

Senator Jeffords, as we all remember, abandoned the Republican Party based upon his principles. His actions caused considerable disruption and expense to the United States and disappointment to those loyal supporters who financed his re-election in 2000.

Beginning in 1964 when Strom Thurmond bolted across the aisle, several Democrats have become Republicans - Phil Gramm, Richard Shelby, Ben Nighthorse Campbell to name a few. They didn't face the calumny of the GOP. They were welcomed with open arms and committee chairmanships. So the 'outrage' expressed by the GOP when the direction of travel is reversed is hypocritical at best.

What will the GOP say to these folks for leaving the party?

Why Evangelicals Are Bolting the GOP
A growing number of evangelicals see the Republicans ignoring their values and find the Democrats eager to welcome them in.

Republican political dominance depends on being able to manipulate religious supporters with fear, painting the Democratic Party as hostile to religion and in the thrall of secular humanists. That image would take quite a blow if the party of Nancy Pelosi was responsible for bringing back Bible classes—even constitutional ones—to public schools.

The holy skirmish down in Alabama, with its “GOP blocks votes on Bible class bill” headlines, may seem like just a one-time, up-is-down, oddity. But it's really the frontline of a larger war to keep Democrats from appealing to more moderate evangelical voters. American politics is so closely divided that if a political party peels off a few percentage points of a single big constituency, it can change the entire electoral map.

That's why, insiders say, the word has gone forth from the Republican National Committee to defeat Democratic efforts to reclaim religion.
Republicans who disregard the instructions and express support for Democratic efforts are swiftly disciplined. At the University of Alabama, the president of the College Republicans was forced to resign after she endorsed the Bible legislation. A few states away, a Missouri Republican who sponsored a Bible literacy bill came under criticism from conservatives for consulting with Randy Brinson and subsequently denied to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter that he had ever even heard of Brinson. But as for Brinson himself, he's already gone. "Oh, they're ticked at me," he says. "But it's because they're scared.
"This has the potential to break the Republican coalition."

The cracks are there to be exploited:

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) held a crucial position as chair of the Judiciary Committee and had recently outraged this group by telling the press that he would apply "no litmus test" to judicial nominees. Now they wanted him gone, ousted, stripped of power. When, in the midst of escalating rhetoric, Brinson spoke up to suggest that perhaps punishing Specter wasn't the wisest decision, the idea wasn't well received.
"That," he says, "was my first inkling that I wasn't one of them."
Not long after, while Brinson was still turning the taste of disillusionment around in his mouth, a Democrat called from Washington. Thinking that "maybe it wouldn't be so bad to talk to these Democratic people," Brinson agreed to come to Washington to sit down with some congressional Democrats. In quick succession, the lifelong Republican found himself meeting with advisers to the incoming Democratic leaders-Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)-field directors at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and aides to Howard Dean at the Democratic National Committee.

Brinson wanted to connect with politicians who could deliver on a broader array of evangelical concerns, like protecting programs to help the poor, supporting public education, and expanding health care. It had seemed natural for him to start by pressing his own party to take up those concerns, but Democrats appeared to be more willing partners. They even found common ground on abortion when Brinson, who is very pro-life, explained that he was more interested in lowering abortion rates by preventing unwanted pregnancies than in using the issue to score political points.

[E]vangelicals had supported Bush despite often disagreeing with his specific positions. But in 2005, according to an Associated Press poll, the percentage of them who believed the country was headed in the right direction dropped by 30 points.
While Brinson has been working with Democrats in Alabama on the Bible literacy bill, other evangelicals are having their own road to Damascus moments.

One of them is Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), and a frequent subject of profiles on "kinder, gentler" evangelicals in outlets like Newsweek and USA Today. Cizik has spent years trying to get evangelicals invested in what he calls "creation care," the idea that God gave them responsibility for tending to the earth. His hope has been that a Republican administration would be more likely to pay attention to lobbying from its own base on issues like carbon dioxide emissions than from liberal environmentalists.

A month later, I ran into Cizik at the National Prayer Breakfast. That morning, he had opened up his Washington Post to find an article based on a letter to his boss from the old guard-Dobson, Colson, Wildmon, and the rest-suggesting, in the way that Tony Soprano makes suggestions, that the NAE back off its plan to take a public position on global warming. "Bible-believing evangelicals," the letter-writers argued, "disagree about the cause, severity, and solutions to the global warming issue." The leaked letter was a blatant attempt to torpedo Cizik's efforts, and it had worked. The NAE would take no stand on climate change.

There was no doubt that the administration had prevailed on the more pliable figures of the Christian Right to whack one of their own.

Cizik was beside himself. But when I suggested to him that this was an example of the way that business seemed to win out most of the time when religious and business interests came into conflict in GOP politics, he stopped me. "Not most of the time," he corrected. "Every time. Every single time." And he's no longer sure that can change. "Maybe not with this administration....
"We need to stop putting all of our eggs in one basket--that's just not good politics."
The list of issues these evangelicals care about extends beyond the social hot-buttons that win elections. And yet, as Cizik notes, when they try to promote concerns that threaten the interests of big business, evangelicals are stymied every time.
Like an abusive boyfriend, Republicans keep moderate evangelicals in the coalition by alternating between painting their options as bleak and wooing them with sweet talk.
You can't leave me-where are you going to go? To them? They think you're stupid, they hate religion. Besides, you know I love you-I'm a compassionate conservative.
The tactic works as long as evangelicals don't call the GOP's bluff and as long as Democrats are viewed as hostile to religion.
Randy Brinson is proof that some evangelicals are willing to take their chances and cross over to see what Democrats have to offer.

There is a growing recognition among mainstream Democrats and the once-quiescent Religious Left that they can reframe issues they care about in terms that appeal to religious voters. But winning over moderate evangelicals-or moderate religious voters generally-will take more than just repackaging old positions. It will require aggressively staking out new positions that can be used to demonstrate the tension within the GOP's religious/business coalition-embracing, for instance, the Workplace Religious Freedom Act.

And it means forwarding new ideas that can counter the conservative-promoted image of progressives as anti-religious: ideas like Bible-as-literature courses in public high schools, which might anger some secularists on the left but are perfectly consonant with liberal values.

Despite all of the punditry about a "God gap" at the voting booth, this is a better moment for Democrats to pick up support from religious moderates than any other time in the past few decades.
That's because evangelicals themselves are the ones who are broadening the faith agenda, insisting that there are issues they care about beyond abortion and gay marriage, connecting Gospel messages about the golden rule and the Good Samaritan to the policies they want their government to support.

And so Republicans revert to the only tactic they have left: fear. The fight down in Alabama has shown that they will do whatever they have to in order to prevent Democrats from claiming a piece of the religious mantle, even if it means taking what could be portrayed as the "anti-religion" stance themselves.

On the same day that Alabama Republicans launched their filibuster of the Bible literacy bill, state GOP chairwoman Twinkle Cavanaugh published an op-ed that charged the Bible curriculum was written by "ultra-liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Council for Islamic Education, and the People for the American Way." (It was not.)

Randy Brinson chuckled as he reported this to me, saying, "This is smokin' them out.

"Now we see what they really care about. It's not religion; they care about power."
He may have the last laugh. According to convoluted state law, Democrats can revive the Bible literacy bill after the Alabama legislature approves all of its budget bills this spring-and they have the votes to pass it.

It's a good sign that evangelicals are beginning to see the GOP for what it is - an engine of corporate power, willing to use anyone or any group which can help them to advance their agenda of the accumulation of more power to be used to service their commercial masters.

In the long run, it could prove to be the very thing that saves America.

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