Category Archives: UnParty

So long to Blue Dogs and GOP moderates

There’s a good piece over at CNN.com by David Gergen and Michael Zuckerman detailing, and decrying, our continued slide into extreme-partisan gridlock.

Basically, it takes note of some the latest developments in this abhorrent trend:

One can see these trends in harsher relief amid campaigns for the Senate and House. Olympia Snowe, a moderate and much-beloved GOP senator from Maine facing her first primary challenge, is retiring because of a lack of bipartisanship and mechanisms to find “common ground.”

Sens. Richard Lugar and Orrin Hatch — both stalwarts of the GOP who have committed apostasy by trying to work across party lines — face primaries this season that imperil their survival: A poll Thursday morning found Lugar down 5 points to a tea party-backed challenger in Indiana, and Hatch failed to secure a 60% supermajority at his party’s convention in Utah, sending his race to a primary. Only two years ago in Utah, another stalwart Republican who had worked with Democrats, Bob Bennett, was deposed by an ideologically purer primary challenger.

In the House, meanwhile, the once-robust cadre of “Blue Dog Democrats” — moderate to conservative members of the liberal party — has been winnowed out, with two more members (Reps. Jason Altmire and Tim Holden of Pennsylvania) defeated in primaries this past Tuesday by opponents from their left flanks.

As of 2010, there were as many as 54 Blue Dogs, but the midterms knocked their caucus down to 26. With retirements and primaries, that number will probably be well below 20 by next January — an effect that further turns Democrats into the party of the left…

Are there any good guys left? Yes there, are, but they are few:

So it’s crucial to bolster the men and women of courage in politics: the ones who can act as ambassadors between these increasingly dug-in parties and who can kindle that small flame of trust that has almost gone out. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and a handful of others, for example, have launched laudable work on this count in the Senate, pulling together small, quiet dinners with legislators from both sides of the aisle who are strong in principles but equally strong in their commitment to moving the ball forward for the country…

I’ve always liked Lamar, ever since I covered him running for governor back in 1978.

A very UnParty press release from Rep. Taylor

Still catching up on releases sent to me via email, I ran across this rather remarkable one from Rep. Bill Taylor, a Republican from Aiken:

Unanimous Agreement !

Passage of a

Bi-Partisan State Budget

Dear Friends:

In Washington D.C. partisan bickering seems to rule. In South Carolina elected officials know how to work together for better and more efficient government. Democrat and Republican legislators joined

Unanimous

together in the House of Representatives to unanimously pass a state budget this week.

Be assured there were disagreements and much debate on how to wisely spend your tax money, but both sides came together to pass a balanced budget that falls well within the proposed cap on spending. It focuses on the core functions of government – education, infrastructure and law enforcement – all of which are vital to our state’s growing economy.

The spending plan also provides tax relief, pays off debt and replenishes the state’s ‘rainy day’ reserve accounts.

Headlines from the $6 billion General Fund appropriations:

  • $152 million in additional funds for K-12 used in the classroom and not for educational bureaucracy.
  • $180 million set aside to pay for SC’s share of the deepening of the Charleston Port, the major economic driver for SC.
  • $77 million in tax relief to employers of all sizes to assist them with some relief from the high unemployment insurance costs caused by the recession.
  • $549 million in tax relief; 88% of which is property tax relief that must be granted annually if the relief is to remain.
  • Nearly $400 million to the Constitutional and Statutory Reserves – those funds go into our savings account for the next economic downturn – “The Rainy Day Fund’.

While the General Fund budget grows by 4.56%, this plan calls for far less spending as compared to the beginning of the recession. The increase is aimed at patching the severe cuts that have occurred in recent years in law enforcement and education. It is a fiscally conservative spending plan designed to make SC more competitive.

The Governor’s Criticism: In Governor Haley’s fly-around-the-state tour this week she promoted her idea for a one-year only tax cut benefiting major corporations. The House budget plan cuts taxes for every single SC employer, hopefully, that will stimulate hiring.

The Governor also took aim on House Republican’s 7 point comprehensive tax reform plan introduced this week. She called it “disingenuous” even though she and her staff worked with our tax reform committee over the past eight months and the legislation included everything she asked for and much more. (Read the Aiken Standard’s story on this topic.)

What’s Next for the Budget? The proposed budget heads to the Senate. If past years are any indication, senators will bloat the budget with additional spending. Please let your senator know that’s not acceptable.

Wow. First we have all the Senate Democrats voting for John Courson. Now we have a Republican — a House Republican (the most partisan kind), no less — bragging to his constituents that the budget just passed was bipartisan. Instead of the usual business of giving all the credit to the GOP and mentioning Democrats only as obstacles, if at all.

Oh never fear — the zampolits are probably rushing to censure these folks for such UnParty sentiments, denouncing them as double-plus ungood. But for now, I’m enjoying this little Prague Spring.

Let’s all be Fascist Anarchists. Or whatever. Doesn’t really matter, as long as everybody’s in.

Ferris wouldn't care if we were fascist anarchists. It still wouldn't change the fact that he doesn't own a car.

Corey Hutchins sends out a link to his ‘splainer on Ken Ard. In a nod to the cultural references of us old people, the headline begins, “An Ard Rain’s Gonna Fall…

Corey and the Free Times are of course feeling validated by how this story came out. Or if they aren’t, they at least have reason to, as The New York Times notes:

A grand jury had been investigating Mr. Ard since July. He has already paid more than $72,000 in fines and other costs after an ethics commission found he improperly spent funds after winning election. His violation of campaign laws was first reported by The Free Times in Columbia.

But I had to take exception to a sidenote that Corey included in the email in which he shared the link. He wrote, “This story details the rise and fall of South Carolina’s first-term GOP lieutenant governor, Ken Ard, who resigned today amid a campaign finance scandal. It might serve as a caution for the idea of a one-party state…”

I responded:

Oh, I think a one-party state would be wonderful. Everyone just go ahead and say they’re Republicans, or Democrats, or Federalists, or Fascist Anarchists. It doesn’t matter what we call it (the names usually end up being meaningless as soon as parties grow large enough to win elections, anyway), as long as everybody’s in.

Then the voters will have to choose candidates based on their individual characters and qualifications, rather than according to which letter they have after their names.

One-party means NO party. Because you have to have two for the idiocy of partisanship.

Purple states smarter than reds and blues

At least, that’s the uncomfortable conclusion of blue-state writer who wanted to prove that such folk were smarter than red-staters:

To get to the bottom of things, I had my assistant Una dump McDaniel’s state IQ numbers into a spreadsheet, weight them by population, and then divide them into three groups: red for states consistently choosing Republicans in the last three presidential elections; blue for always voting Democratic; and purple for swing states.

Result: average IQ for red states vs. blue states was essentially the same (red 99, blue 99.5). Conclusions: Are liberals smarter than conservatives? Some social scientists sure think so. Are blue states smarter than red states? Sadly for us cyanophiles, no.

But here’s the most significant data point, I think: in the purple states — the ones that swung back and forth — the average IQ according to Una’s spreadsheet was 100.9, appreciably above that for either the blue states or red states. In other words — and this has the shock of truth — the people in the purple states weren’t rigidly liberal or conservative, but rather had enough on the ball to consider the choices before them and occasionally change their minds.

So, it comes down to what I’ve been telling y’all over and over: We swing voters are the people who actually think about our votes. It stands to reason that places where we predominate would be smarter.

I’ll bet his assistant, Una, is one of us. Bet she’s good-looking, too.

This inspires a possible tagline for the UnParty: “We’re way smarter than the rest of y’all.”

OK, so it could use some work. For instance, the word “y’all” might be over the heads of folks in blue states.

But it’s a start…

Energy Party position on Keystone pipeline

Meant to post about this yesterday, but there’s just so much going on…

You know the Democratic position on the Obama Administration’s rejection of a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. And you know the Republican position.

But what, I’m sure you’re wondering, is the Energy Party position? It’s not all that complicated. You can break it down into three elements. The Energy Party:

  1. Wants this project to happen. Not for the jobs everybody is talking about, although the jobs are great. Encouraging the development of domestic, or at least friendly, sources of energy is key to the nation’s strategic security, and therefore of the highest priority to the Energy Party.
  2. Is deeply disappointed that the permit has been rejected at this time. Were this decision to stand, it would be bad for the nation. Fortunately, there appears to be time to reconsider, as there are other obstacles to the project that will take time to work out.
  3. Is much encouraged that the permit was not rejected on the merits. The fact that the president cited a technicality — Congress not giving enough time to properly consider the permit — is highly encouraging. Maybe he can turn this around and get it right.

See how matter-of-fact things can be when you’re not blinded by the ideology of either the left or the right, and you don’t care whether Democrats or Republicans have the upper hand?

Historic national milestone: Americans more disgusted with Congress than ever

This just in:

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that a record 84 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, with almost two-thirds saying they “disapprove strongly.” Just 13 percent of Americans approve of how things are going after the 112th Congress’s first year of action, solidifying an unprecedented level of public disgust that has both sides worried about their positions less than 10 months before voters decide their fates.

It has been nearly four years since even 30 percent expressed approval of Congress, according to the Post-ABC survey, and support hasn’t recovered from the historic low it reached last fall.

In the face of the public dismay, House Republicans and Senate Democrats are fashioning less far-reaching agendas for the year ahead, in part to avoid the bitter political showdowns of 2011 and also to best position themselves for the fall elections…

So basically they’ve decided, “The country is right where we want it. No need to do anything else. Let’s sit back and let the voters reward us by re-electing us.”

Some of y’all were urging me to run for office earlier today, although perhaps ironically. Is this the moment for the UnParty to make its move, at long last? That “unprecedented level of public disgust” sounds like a call to arms for somebody, anyway.

But what does “Patriocracy” mean, exactly?

Someone passed this invitation on to me. I think I’d like to attend, although I’m double-checking to see whether I’m welcome, since I wasn’t invited directly. I mean, I assume I’m included in “everyone,” but does a gentleman assume?

You Are Invited to Attend…

The South Carolina Premiere of the Documentary Film ‘Patriocracy‘, Followed by Panel Discussion

6 pm, Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce Auditorium, 930 Richland St., Columbia

Sponsored by the League of Women Voters       Co-Sponsored by the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council

The League of Women Voters invites everyone to a special free screening of ‘Patriocracy’. This new, award-winning documentary film drills down to the roots of political polarization in our nation and offers sound solutions to move beyond it. Brian Malone, the film’s producer and five-time Emmy Award winner, will introduce the film in person. The film features an A-list of national political and media personalities, including former MT Senator Alan Simpson, VA Senator Mark Warner, ND Senator Kent Conrad, former SC Congressman Bob Inglis, Bob Schieffer (CBS News), Eleanor Clift (Newsweek/McLaughlin Group), Ken Rudin (NPR),  and many more.

After the film there will be a panel discussion, moderated by Elisabeth MacNamara, national president of the League of Women Voters. The A-list of panelists includes former Rep. John M. Spratt, Jr.(D; SC 5th Congressional District); Charles Bierbauer (USC College of Journalism and Mass Communication Dean and former CNN senior White House Correspondent); Lee Catoe (Greater Columbia Community Relations Council Interim Dir., former SC Dept. of Alcohol and Other Abuse Services Dir., appointed by Gov. Mark Sanford, Exec. Assistant for Gov. Carroll Campbell); filmmaker Brian Malone; and others.

This event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served. Please share with everyone you know.

Film information is available at http://www.patriocracymovie.com/.

RSVP requested, but not required at 803-251-2726 or info@lwvsc.org.

Save Wednesday evening, January 18 at 6 p.m., and see the film ‘Patriocracy’ being shown at Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce Auditorium, 930 Richland St., in downtown Columbia.

One thing I’m frustrated about, though — I don’t understand where the title came from. Why “Patriocracy?” What do the filmmakers mean by that word? I hope the movie will tell me.

Why do people keep coining new words, instead of using the tried and true ones. Such as, you know, “UnParty.”

Ex-GOP candidate boasts of high ACLU rating. No, really.

Seeing as how I’m old enough to remember the epithet, “card-carrying member of the ACLU,” I was a bit taken aback by this release from erstwhile GOP presidential candidate wannabe Gary Johnson:

GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON TOPS OBAMA, PAUL ON ACLU CONSTITUTIONAL REPORT CARD
Liberty Watch Scorecard

January 3, 2012, Santa Fe, NM — Former New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Gary Johnson ranks highest of all major presidential candidates in a “Liberty Watch” report card just released by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU report ranked candidates according to their positions on issues of civil liberties and adherence to the Constitution.
Johnson ranked higher than both President Obama and Texas Congressman Ron Paul in the ACLU Liberty Watch ratings. The report card included candidates’ positions on issues ranging from immigration to gay rights to a woman’s right to choose.
On the ACLU Liberty Watch website, ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said, “Republican-turned-Libertarian Gary Johnson scored even better than Paul, Huntsman and Obama, earning four and three torches on most major issues. They stand in stark contrast to the other major GOP candidates, three of whom — Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum — didn’t earn a single torch in any of the seven major categories.”
The full Liberty Watch Report Card can be viewed at www.aclulibertywatch.org.

There’s an explanation. It seems that over the holidays when I wasn’t paying attention (OK, I admit I never was actually paying attention to Gov. Johnson, but last week I was like in negative Johnson-attention mode), the candidate gave up on running as a Republican, and is now seeking the Libertarian Party nod.

Which explains a lot.

Before, he was a Republican. Now, he’s more down on the two-party system than… well,  than an UnPartisan. Dig the fund-raising pitch on his site:

Everybody says they want a viable alternative to America’s two-party chokehold.
Everybody — Meet Gary Johnson.
The two-party is over.
See what I mean?

And now, a few words from the Grownup Party

The ATV discussion caused me to invoke the Grownup Party (which was my third effort to start my own party, after the UnParty and the Energy Party), which caused me to go back and reread the party’s founding document, and I think this passage is always good to keep in mind:

Which brings us to something else about Grownups — they understand that in America, the government is us, rather than being some menacing thing out there, and that we’re very fortunate to live in this country at this time rather than in Russia under the czars — or under Vladimir Putin, for that matter. And we’re especially fortunate not to live in a place where there is no government, such as Somalia under the warlords.
When the government does something we don’t like — which is pretty often, political immaturity being rampant — we don’t stamp our feet and talk about taking our ball (or  taxes, or whatever) and going home. Instead, we take responsibility for it, and try to bring it along. Yes, it’s a thankless task, like picking up after one’s children, or explaining to them why they can’t stay out late with their friends. But someone has to do it.
The task may seem hopeless as well — but only to the sort who gives up. Grownups know they don’t have that option, so they keep putting forth ideas that make sense, day after day, just like Daddy  going to work…

Amen to that. The Founder of the Grownup Party knows what he’s on about…

One man’s moderation is another man’s floor

Or something. I was trying to play on this saying. Not sure it worked.

Anyway, this being the official blog of the UnParty, I wanted to further explore a discussion of moderation that began with this comment by Bud:

Here are some other issues I regard as extreme:

Warrantless wire tapping
War on drugs, especially marijuana
Iraq war
Support for Green Diamond
Outlawing video poker
Blue Laws
Tax exemption for mortgage on second homes
Allowing the drilling for oil in deepwater (over 5000 ft)
Banning of abortion with exceptions for rape and incest
Expansion of nuclear power
Allowing prayer in public schools

Some folks would see some, or all, of these positions as moderate, mainstream issues. Some would find the opposite view (from mine) as the extremist position. So I’m not sure the label “extremist” is particularly meaningful.

I liked that challenge to further explore our respective concepts of moderation. I decided to set out my own thoughts, briefly, on those issues, as a political “moderate.” (Still not sure that’s the right word, but it’s the one we were using at the moment.) Here was my response, slightly edited for this separate post:

1. Warrantless wire tapping — You need to define your terms more clearly. “Wiretap” is a 20th century word that gets kind of mushy in a wireless world. I’m thinking you’re probably referring to the scanning of billions of communications in a process that is actually closer (as I understand it) to another old term (while not being at all the same thing): “traffic analysis.” Certain patterns are looked for, and if they emerge, zeroed in on. This is for me a huge gray area. If you’re referring to the kind of large-scale scanning of communications under the Patriot Act, I generally can live with it. If you’re talking about actually entering someone’s home, or even directly accessing someone’s personal computer remotely, I think the 4th Amendment kicks in and there should probably be a warrant. But at the same time, all sorts of private companies access your data remotely without a warrant, so these are things that require constant rethinking. Our political thinking hasn’t caught up with the technology.
2. War on drugs, especially marijuana — As we’ve discussed before, I disagree. All mind-altering drugs should be controlled, to some degree, including alcohol and nicotine. To the extent that we can keep out of wide circulation drugs that don’t have the same cultural foothold as alcohol, it’s a worthy goal.
3. Iraq war — I was for the invasion, like people across the political spectrum. Once committed, I couldn’t see even thinking about withdrawing until a reasonable level of stability was achieved. (If you break it, you’re responsible.) I was not in favor of the way Bush and Rumsfeld handled the situation after the actual toppling of the Ba’athist regime. I think we got back on the right course when Petraeus took over. I’m concerned and torn about the pending withdrawal.
3. Support for Green Diamond — I’m with you there, although not adamantly. It’s not something I would have done, but I was ambivalent as to whether those developers should have been allowed to try it. On the one had, it was their risk to take. On the other, there was the risk of flooding on the other side of the river and downstream — the latter outweighs the former, which is why I say I’m with you.
4. Outlawing video poker — By the end, it was such a corrupting influence on the State House that that was the only way. It had to go. I’ve explained in the past the trajectory of that issue, until it was plain to people on both sides of the political aisle that the video poker industry was incapable of being a good “citizen,” and banning it was the only solution. Everything else had been tried.
5. Blue Laws — I disagree completely. Ours was a more civilized culture when there was a day that things calmed down and commerce ceased. I realize many people across the spectrum disagree with me on this. I’ve never seen it as worth having a fight about either way, but if you ask me my preference, it’s opposed to rescinding such laws.
6. Tax exemption for mortgage on second homes — I’m with you. Frankly, I’m not entirely convinced we should have it on first homes. I wouldn’t campaign to get rid of it, though.
7. Allowing the drilling for oil in deepwater (over 5000 ft) — I don’t know how you pick that number. Seems arbitrary. Accidents can happen at 4,000 ft., too. The answer isn’t a number, it seems to me, but rather proper safeguards. Bottom line, I want drilling wherever it can be done safely (within a reasonable doubt), because our economy needs the oil until we develop alternative sources on a sufficient scale, and we desperately need to wean ourselves off unstable foreign sources.
8. Banning of abortion with exceptions for rape and incest — The only exemption for me would be the mother’s life. Only a life can balance out a life. And a life in which many other lives are already invested has precedence.
9. Expansion of nuclear power — Such expansion is essential. Our best option at this time to wean ourselves off fossil fuels (just to use transportation as an example) is to move to electric cars, and the cleanest, safest source for that electricity is nuclear. We are capable of building safe plants.
10. Allowing prayer in public schools — Ambivalent. I can’t see taking up the cudgels for either side in this debate. Just another one of those things culture warriors like to fight about, and I am neutral. Prayer in the schools is harmless, but at the same time I respect the goal of keeping public schools secular. Have prayer or don’t, society would be fine. Oh, and I assume we’re talking officially sanctioned prayer. Of course any individual or group of individuals is perfectly free to pray anywhere.

On that last one — if you look back at the rules that Dick Riley promulgated on this issue when he was Bill Clinton’s secretary of education, you’ll see a good, moderate response to the prayer issue. It was a response that wouldn’t be entirely satisfactory to either side in the culture war, but it was fine to a moderate.

By the way, I also thought “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a great moderate response. That also, as you recall, was a Third Way course taken by Clinton. But of course, culture warriors on both sides wanted total victory.

And on abortion, I very much appreciate the initiative by members of Congress on both sides of the issue to work together to make abortion more rare. That’s something both sides say they want, and it’s far better to work on that than to keep shouting at each other. That actually has a point to it. E.J. Dionne mentioned that in his speech the other night, by the way…

Et tu, Coffee Party?

Following on my previous post, I’ve realized for some time that the Coffee Party wasn’t going be the kind of sensible Third Way alternative, a la the UnParty, that I’ve been looking for all these years.

I was momentarily beguiled by the word “coffee,” but I eventually woke up and smelled it.

Basically, for some time, it has seemed to be more of a leftie alternative to the Tea sorts.

And now, like Phil Noble’s SC New Democrats, the Coffee Party is totally in the bag for Occupy Wall Street. They seem starstruck or something, like this is what they’ve been waiting for all their lives. You can see this, over and over, in recent Tweets, such as this one:

Coffee Party

@coffeepartyusaCoffee Party

Iconic Photo of #OccupyDC — meet the photographer Craig Hudsonhttp://ow.ly/77SOx #Oct29 #CoffeeParty

Talk about your fanboy sensibilities.

This prompted me to reply, I’m disappointed that the Coffee Party seems so entranced by Occupy Wall Street…

To which I received this answer:

Coffee Party

@coffeepartyusaCoffee Party

Hey @bradwarthen …we just encourage a #CitizensIntervention that allows dialogue between citizens and their leaders…coming #Oct29?

No, I’m not. I won’t be in town. But thanks. I mean, I believe y’all are sincere in your effort to include me.

If only y’all would snap out of it, and become a real alternative for those of us who are sick of people marching and countermarching in the streets, and hollering pointlessly at each other in the halls of Congress. Those of us longing for some common, grown-up sense.

My prescription: Listen to the song below. (The Coffee Party fooled me once. I won’t get fooled again.) And have yourself a nice cup of coffee while you listen. Preferably some of that wonderful, corporate Starbucks coffee. See how good it is…

And then vote UnParty.

OK, DCCC, I agree with you on this one

Another of those fund-raising appeals that never stop coming arrived this morning, ostensibly from Donna Brazile. It starts out,

Brad –

If President Obama found a cure for the common cold, Republicans would oppose it.

I’ll ignore the laughably transparent attempt to pretend you know me (“Hey, Donna!”), when you obviously don’t if you think I’d give you money, and move on to the first full sentence.

You’re absolutely right. Now, will you agree with me on the following statement, which is just as obviously true?

Brad –

If President Bush had found a cure for the common cold, Democrats would have opposed it.

You can’t agree, Donna? Oh, well. Perhaps I don’t know you that well, either.

Too bad. Because you had hit on a punchy, terse way of expressing how pointlessly partisan Congress has become, and how destructive it is to the country for anyone to give you money for your cause, or to do the same for your Republican counterparts.

Vote UnParty, y’all.

Do Lieberman and McCain have a new best bud?

Speaking of stuff in The Wall Street Journal today, Joe Lieberman had a good piece on the Opinion pages about the importance of the upcoming Tunisian elections.

You should read it all (if you can get past the pay wall), but what grabbed my easily-distracted attention was this:

Third, the U.S. should recognize that the foremost challenges for Tunisia’s new government will be economic, in spurring growth and reducing unemployment. While the U.S. cannot offer billions of dollars of direct aid, given our own economic challenges, there are other actions we can take. These include establishing a robust Millennium Challenge Corporation compact with Tunisia and expanding the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to operate there. Congress should also pass legislation, which I co-sponsored with Sens. John Kerry and John McCain, to establish a Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund aimed at helping small and medium-sized businesses, and modeled after similar efforts in Central Europe following the fall of communism.

For the longest time, it was Lieberman, McCain and Lindsey Graham doing everything together, including road trips. Then, there was a sort of transitional trio when Lieberman, Graham and Kerry worked together on trying to push an actual, coherent, comprehensive energy policy for the country (one that looked pretty good from an Energy Party perspective).

Then, Graham took all kinds of horrific grief from the most hateful ideological extremists in his own party from having had any dealings with a Democrat, and pulled out of the deal — tragically, thereby collapsing it.

Now, it’s Lieberman, McCain and Kerry? Is Kerry the new, replacement member of the Three Amigos? Is he Ringo to Graham’s Pete Best?

Is Lamar Alexander about to do something very cool — from an UnParty perspective?

I’m puzzling, hopefully, over what this means:

The no. 3 Republican in the Senate will step down from his leadership position early next year, despite having no plans to retire from Congress.

Lamar Alexander informed his fellow GOP colleagues of his rather surprising decision on Tuesday morning in a letter obtained byPolitico, saying that the move was the best decision for him and the Senate.

“Stepping down from leadership will liberate me to spend more time working for results on the issues I care most about,” the 71-year-old former Tennessee governor wrote. “I want to do more to make the Senate a more effective institution so that it can deal better with serious issues. There are different ways to provide leadership within the Senate. After nine years here, this is how I believe I can now make my greatest contribution. For these same reasons I do not plan to seek a leadership position in the next Congress.”…

I’ve respected Lamar Alexander since  I covered him in his first successful run for governor in 1978, spending a good bit of time with him on the road (OK, so I was on the road with him 24/7 for one week before switching over to cover his opponent, but it was enough time to form a positive impression).

Lamar was never a guy you get particularly excited about. He was… bland. One of the most striking things about him was how much his speaking voice sounded like Pat Boone’s. (Once, I heard a PSA on the radio by Boone, and I thought it was the governor until he identified himself at the end — or was it the other way around?) His much-publicized walk across Tennessee in the trademark red-and-black shirt was SO contrived, such an earnest bid to be interesting, that I would joke about it, while at the same time appreciating his seriousness. He was what Tennessee needed after the rollicking corruption of Ray Blanton (who had defeated him four years earlier, on the very first election night of my newspaper career, when I was a copy boy at The Commercial Appeal). I would joke that Lamar’s main appeal to the voters was to subliminally project, “I won’t steal the silverware from the governor’s mansion.” But after Blanton, that was progress.

Turned out that there was a lot more progress to come with Alexander. He was different from any Republican governor I have seen since. He started out appointing Democrats to his Cabinet (his chief political adviser was someone who had worked for Democrats), and he reached out to the Democratic majority in the legislature to get his agenda passed, including significant movement toward merit pay for teachers. From day one, he was about raising the incomes of the average Tennessean, and he was for working with whomever it took to get that done. He worked particularly productively with the iconic speaker of the House (and later governor) Ned Ray McWherter.

He has served his state, and now his country, with pragmatic dedication and moderate sensibilities. So I’m sorry to see him leave leadership.

And puzzled. What does he mean he can be more effective outside that role? There’s a hint in the original Politico story:

Alexander says the decision was rooted in his desire to foster consensus in the gridlocked Senate, a role he felt constrained playing while spearheading the partisan Senate GOP messaging machine.

That sounds very cool — and even, despite this being Lamar Alexander, exciting. In an UnParty sense. I’d love to hear an elaboration on that. It would be nice to have back about 15 minutes of that time I spent riding around with him in cars and planes back in the day. I think I’d have more interesting questions now…

On the campaign plane with Alexander, back in the day./Brad Warthen

Let’s hear it for the Norwegian UnParty!

At Rotary today, Kathryn Fenner gave me the above bracelet, a souvenir from her visit to the Land of the Midnight Sun. She said it represented “the Norwegian UnParty.”

Naturally curious, I went to the website, and at first found absolutely nothing to argue with. On account of it being in, you know, Norwegian. But then I asked my browser to translate the site — which it did, into a sort of stilted version of English.

And you know what? I found a lot to like. Not that I agreed with everything, of course. Nor would I agree with everything that came out of a hypothetical UnParty convention. But it was not bad. The UnParty isn’t strictly a “Center Party,” which is how this translates, but a lot of the basic ideas are at least compatible. I don’t think any Senterpartiet member would get thrown out of an UnParty meeting (if only because we’re, like, way tolerant of differences, unlike some parties I could name). Here’s a sample, from the A’s:

Abortion

The Center will continue the current abortion laws. A fertilized egg is the seed of a new life. The community has a duty, through legislation and otherwise, to give the unborn child and the woman suitable protection. We will oppose the use and research on embryos, fetal tissues and aborted fetuses in humans.

Adoption

The Center will increase adoption support for 1G (70.256 million). Furthermore, we want to simplify the adoption process through, among other things, simpler regulations, and shorter processing times…

Alcohol

The Center aims to reduce alcohol consumption in the population. Besides a systematic public health with an emphasis on promoting healthy drinking habits, the controlled access and high taxes as the most active full measures to limit alcohol use and reduce alcohol related harm. Prevention among young people and raising the average age at onset of alcohol is of great value, so that alcohol use decreases. Minimum age for purchase is an important preventive measure.

Alternative Energy

Environment and climate change means we must invest heavily in developing new technologies and alternative energy sources. The Center’s goal for Norway to produce 23 TWh of renewable electricity by 2020. New energy in the form of district heating and goals for energy efficiency must be additional to this. The total hydropower resources to be used better. There should be more wind power on land and at sea, it will be extracted more heat and electricity from biomass, and energy production from the sea in the form of wave and sea heat should be increased….

Asylum

The Center will have an immigration and integration policies that put human life in focus and where the individual has clear rights and obligations. All who live in the country should have their rights and opportunities addressed regardless of the original national origin. Any individual applying for asylum and stay in Norway must have confidence that the legal rights protected and that have met their rights as individuals. Everyone should have equal opportunities and equal access to language training, education and work backgrounds and resources. New citizens must, on their own terms, contribute a great effort to be included in community life through learning the language, and through participation in key community venues such as work, organizations and education. Good integration policy is best for the community. The Center will have an immigration and integration policies that allow local knowledge and local involvement is bearing so that the integration is real…

I also sort of liked what they said was their basic ideology, as far as I can like any ideology:

Ideology

The ideology of the Centre builds on the ideas of responsibility, fellowship and a long-term and sustainable management of nature and the environment. A vibrant democracy and decentralization of ownership, power, capital and population are basic elements of the Centre’s policy.

You know, I need to get some of my UnParty ward heelers and lackeys to get organized and put together a proper manifesto for us. All we have so far is our basic “fundamental, nonnegotiable tenets:”

  • First, unwavering opposition to fundamental, nonnegotiable tenets. Within our party would be many ideas, and in each situation we would sift through them to find the smartest possible approach to the challenge at hand. Another day, a completely different approach might be best.
  • Respect for any good idea, even if it comes from Democrats or Republicans.
  • Contempt for any stupid idea, even if it comes from our own party leaders.
  • Utter freedom to vote however one’s conscience dictates, without condemnation or ostracism from fellow party members.

Perhaps I should elaborate. Or perhaps it’s perfect the way it is. I don’t know.

Some videos that are more in the UnParty mode

Ran across the above awesome video of a classic moment, and thought I’d share it with you. That was sort of Leon’s big moment in the limelight. I had the album, and that was my favorite part of it — even more so than Harrison and Clapton both playing lead on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Then, when I was getting into that, YouTube brought my attention to the item below, and others like it — which blew my mind to another place entirely.

I had heard about him being on Shindig, but I not seen video. Leon Russell’s moment had not yet arrived in 1964, but he was ready for it. Even though he hadn’t settled on The Look.

Anyway, I thought I’d share these with you as a sort of sorbet — something more in the UnParty taste, to cleanse the palate after those Republican and Democratic videos yesterday.

Doesn’t like much like a “deal” to me…

Normally, I never see the Sunday morning political talk shows. I have other activities I deem more important at that time of the week: sleeping, making coffee, eating breakfast, and getting ready to go to Mass.

But I got up a little early this morning, and had a few minutes, and was burning with curiosity about this “deal” that was supposedly nearing on the debt insanity in Washington.

First thing I saw was Mitch McConnell. I heard him say some standard partisan “Thank God for us Republicans” rhetoric about how far we’d come since April, when the White House simply wanted the debt ceiling raised with no spending cuts.

So he patted himself on the back for that for a moment — apparently in a bid to pull the Tea crazies along, tell them that even if they don’t get the moon the way they want, they’ve gotten a lot, etc.

Then he briefly described the direction in which negotiators were working. The only part that jumped out at me was, “no job-killing tax increases.”

A moment for translation. We of the UnParty just go ahead and say “tax cuts” or “tax increases,” because they hold no deep-seated emotional baggage for us. They are just options, tools, things you might do or not do. To Democrats and Republicans, these things have profound religious significance, and they have ritual words they have to say along with them. For instance, to Democrats there are no such things as mere “tax cuts;” there are only “tax cuts for the rich,” or, if they are inclined to used what they consider to be curse words, “Bush tax cuts.” For Republicans, there are no secular, matter-of-fact references to be made to the expedient of raising taxes. They must say something like “job-killing tax increases.” You must forgive them. They have to do the verbal equivalent of making a face and spitting on the ground on such occasions. They would explode if they didn’t get it out.

Anyway, modifiers aside, I was just hoping he was lying, or misunderstood. Because if that is really what is being discussed, it’s rather disgusting from an UnParty perspective.

Here’s the thing, folks: No sensible person wants to do either — cut spending drastically, or raise taxes — at a moment when the economy seems to be sliding backwards. But we do need to tame the deficit at some point, and there is a gun at our heads to make us do something about it now: Raising the debt ceiling won’t be enough to preserve the nation’s (and South Carolina’s) credit rating. The ratings agencies have to see progress on the deficit. So we need a nice, neutral, everybody-gives-something deal to do that.

But it’s not much of a deal if the Republicans — who hold the House, and therefore bear some responsibility toward the nation rather than the Tea Party — aren’t bringing anything to the table.

I saw a silly movie the other night, “Couples Retreat.” There’s a seen in it in which a guy drops his trousers. Vince Vaughn, not looking, says something like, “Is his junk out?” When the people around him confirm the fact, he adds, “NOW it’s a party!”

I’ve been trying not to watch this stuff myself, in spite of the morbid fascination. But when somebody tells me that both spending cuts and tax increases are hanging out there, I’m going to say, “NOW it’s a deal!”

You can still find good stuff in the NYT

After a bunch of y’all piled on with me as I criticized The New York Times for that Haley piece, I felt a little bad for the Gray Lady. Especially since I know they do have good writing in the paper still. Or at least in the magazine. I enjoyed this passage from a piece by Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard:

Gingrich’s inattention to detail is one reason his speakership was so chaotic, as readers of a certain age will recall, and the primary reason he was shunned by his own party after four years with the gavel. “Lessons Learned the Hard Way,” released months before his defenestration, is a more conventional memoir than anything else Gingrich has written, and it was supposed to serve as a mea culpa for his mistakes as Speaker, as well as a bid to regain the loyalty of members who had grown tired of his boyish exuberance. It didn’t work.

Admitting mistakes comes easily to no public man — as memoirs from figures like Bill Clinton and Donald Rumsfeld demonstrate — but in “Lessons Learned,” Gingrich gave it the old West Georgia College try. This didn’t work, either. There’s lots of mea in “Lessons Learned,” but the culpa is all on the other side.

Early in the book, he offers an account of the drafting of the Interstate Transportation Bill of 1997. Most readers, he admits, might think such a story uninteresting. “But in this case most readers would be wrong.” In fact, in this case most readers would be right. The point of the story, though, is that Gingrich handled the transportation bill pretty damn well. Indeed, he handled nearly all his duties pretty well — except for when he worked too hard or cared too deeply or thought too much or trusted too many of the wrong people.

I only shared that for the play on mea and culpa. Good stroke, that.

I also appreciated the next paragraph:

Democrats, for instance. One lesson Gingrich claimed to learn the hard way was, as a chapter title has it, “Don’t Underestimate the Liberals.” As speaker, Gingrich discovered that Republicans are too good for their own — um, good. “The difference between the well-thought-out, unending and no-holds-barred hostility of the left,” he wrote, “and the acquiescent, friendship-seeking nature of many of my Republican colleagues never ceases to amaze me.” Democrats flatter themselves with the mirror image of this fantasy, of course, pretending to be envious of the robotic efficiency of Republicans and the freedom of action allowed them by their utter lack of conscience or shame. Self-awareness is not listed in the catalog of traits required for faithful partisanship. About the true nature of their enemies, however, if about nothing else, professional Republicans and Democrats are both exactly right.

I like it when partisans are described just as they are.

There are more of US than there are of Democrats or Republicans

First, take a look at the awesome image that combine Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan into one face, and the one that does the same with Kennedy and Nixon. Cool. There was another that did the same with Obama and Bush, but I can’t seem to locate it as a still image online — oh, there it is.

I got excited when I saw those, and thought the piece, headlined “Death of the Duopoly,” would be a sort of UnParty manifesto. But no. When  I want an Unparty Manifesto, I have to write it myself.

Unfortunately, this was one of those pieces that saw the WSJ’s sort of libertarianism as the natural successor to the two parties, going on about how the American people, in their supposed wisdom, are turned against the drug war, and toward paying people to abandon public schools. Ho-hum, the usual. Nothing paradigm-breaking at all.

But the pictures were cool. And while the author of this piece may be confused as to the implications, these data were at least confusing:

Perhaps the most important long-term trend in U.S. politics is the four-decade leak in market share by the country’s two dominant parties. In 1970, the Harris Poll asked Americans, “Regardless of how you may vote, what do you usually consider yourself—a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or some other party?”

Fully 49% of respondents chose Democrat, and 31% called themselves Republicans. Those figures are now 35% for Democrats and 28% for Republicans. While the numbers have fluctuated over the years, the only real growth market in politics is voters who decline affiliation, with independents increasing from 20% of respondents to 28%.

These findings are consistent with other surveys. In January, Gallup reported that the Democrats were near their lowest point in 22 years (31%), while the GOP remained stuck below the one-third mark at 29%. The affiliation with the highest marks? Independent, at 38% and growing. In a survey released in May, the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of independents rose from 29% in 2000 to 37% in 2011…

Yes, there are now more of us than there are of either Democrats or Republicans (at least, according to Gallup and apparently Pew). Maybe when we grow to exceed all the partisans combined, we’ll get somewhere. But at least we’re on our way.

It’s OK, Mr. President; you don’t have to have a position on this — in fact, please don’t

Just got this little email update from the WashPost:

—————————————-
Politics News Alert: White House calls Rep. Weiner’s actions a ‘distraction’
June 13, 2011 11:32:22 AM
—————————————-

The White House says President Obama believes Rep. Anthony Weiner’s actions have been “inappropriate” and a “distraction.”

But spokesman Jay Carney wouldn’t say whether the president thinks the New York Democrat should resign — something other Democratic leaders have called for.

Wow…

I’ve been bemoaning for years the degradation of the presidency to the point where we expect the president to take a position on EVERYTHING that happens, whether it bears on his job responsibilities or not. I think the moment where it first hit me how bad it got was when I was watching a guy on a cable news station standing outside the White House with a microphone on the night of the Columbine shootings. This guy kept coming back on to assure us that the president would soon have a statement. And I’m like WTF? In what sense is a shooting at a high school in Colorado the responsibility of the president of the United States? Why on Earth would I expect him to say anything about it, or care what he said? I wrote a column about this at the time.

By comparison, though, Bill Clinton making sure to vibrate to the correct emotions over Columbine was the height of relevant leadership, compared to the White House being expected to have a position on some wanker who sends dirty pictures to women. We’ve really sunk low now.

If you have trouble seeing this, try for just a moment to look at the world the way I do, instead of the way the Beltway media does. To me, being the “leader of his party” is NOT a role I expect or want my president to play. To me, playing that role is actually inimical to the one that he is paid to perform.

So please, Mr. President: Don’t have an opinion on this. Ignore it. It’s beneath you personally, and certainly beneath the dignity of your office. Stick with the “inappropriate” and “distraction” thing, if you must say anything. Those characterizations are at least accurate.