Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What will become of the GOP?

I learned a long time ago not to make political predictions. Too much can change.

But it's hardly a secret that nearly all the signs point to the GOP taking a beating next month. Most seem to expect the Republicans to lose control at least of the U.S. House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate. Not to mention various losses around the country.

Well . . . we'll see. These sort of predictions tend to get overblown; but every once in a while, it is actually worse than anyone predicts.

If the GOP takes the beating widely predicted, let us be clear why this will have happened.

If the GOP goes down in flames, it will not be because of the pathetic Rep. Foley, who lusted after pages.

It won't be because of Bush, per se.

It won't be because of Iraq.

It won't be because the Republicans actually carried through on their ideological commitments.

No, it will because they betrayed their promises and their base.

It will be because they failed to advance the agenda they have claimed, all these years, to care about. As a result, they won't have that agenda to talk about, they will end up talking about scandals and porkbarrel and other things. Every campaign has to be about something; when it's not about larger, more significant issues, then it inevitably ends up being about trivial stupid things. Thus, George Bush the elder ran on flag-burning -- a regrettable, but hardly world-shaking, problem.

Let's be clear: the GOP took power in 1994 in reaction to the agenda the Democrats -- in Congress and the White House -- were advancing: higher taxes, bigger spending, more government (including a health-care plan), more advocacy for abortion, more gun control, more power for union bosses, and probably a few other things I've forgotten. Now, one can defend these things (better you than me): you can say the higher taxes were modest, and needed; that the health-care plan was a misunderstood boon that sadly was denied us; that gun control is good for us, etc. But please, let's not pretend that there wasn't a clear contrast, in 1994, between what the Democrats had proposed and voted on and enacted, and where their GOP challengers stood.

The GOP did not win because of the stupid, vastly overrated "Contract with America." Who remembers what the 10 items were; let along what elements were enacted? That was PR, nothing else. PR is easy; I know, I used to do it for a living. Getting PR is not impressive.

The GOP won because enough of its candidates offered themselves as credible alternatives: on guns, on taxes, on government spending and power; on Right to Work, on prolife.

And how has the GOP done since then? Well, in the first few years opposing Clinton, not bad; they were a real alternative, and happily, the resulting gridlock meant less spending, and actual reduction in government power. The government actually retrenched on an entitlement!

Then, the stupid Republicans decided to get personal, and go after Clinton instead of sticking to issues; and in 1998, they lost a number of seats, where they'd gained in 1996. In 2000, they were all about cheering on their new hero, George W. Bush; and ever since, they've forgotten nearly every principle and commitment they ever had or made.

In fairness, they have done some of what they promised; they have advanced some prolife measures; they did address "tort reform," they did do some good things on guns, and of course, they did make some reductions in taxes--probably the most effective thing they can claim credit for. It is also fair to note that it is not surprising they actually enacted less, because so many fail to realize just how hard it is, and how long it takes, to enact anything really significant in Congress. (And they fail to realize how good that really is.)

Meanwhile, however, they did enact lots of things: a new government entitlement, lots more power for government to spy on us and police us (but don't worry you're little heads; Uncle Sugar wouldn't think of misusing that power, noooo); legislation restricting free speech (the so-called McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform), and of course, wave upon wave of prodigal spending.

The point is, the GOP, somewhere along the line, stopped being the alternative to the problem, and came uncomfortably to resemble the problem it was supposed to oppose. And the last few years, the loyal base has held its nose and voted them back in.

That may yet happen again. But if not, be clear what happened: it was the conservative base that had enough; not the poor, misunderstood "moderates," who if only everyone would listen to sweet reason, would lead us all to the Promised Land -- who if only we'd listened to them, all would be well.

The policy we've gotten from the GOP the past few years is precisely the sort of thing "moderates" like Olympia Snowe and Mike Dewine would vote for -- because it's been their votes the leadership has had to court. This hand-wringing crowd always says the correct thing about spending -- "not too much!" -- but really, when have they ever done anything truly useful? Did they stand in the breach to prevent a huge, new expansion of Medicare? Who are you kidding?

If the GOP goes down in flames in three weeks, there will be a certain justice if Ohio Senator Mike Dewine goes with it: because the GOP that loses will be one that trimmed its agenda to suit him.

42 comments:

joeh said...

Father, that is a well written post. A party needs a clear message and needs to have a solid agenda and fight for it because they believe it is best for the country. What really makes me mad today is that most of them do not seem to care about America, but about power. Examples of this are the pathetic way they have dealt with immigration. It also shows in the war on terror. We have men in harms way and no clear position one can rally around from either of them. The same is true on our energy policy, healthcare, social security, or a number of other issues. We do not seem to have any real leaders, only a bunch of followers with their finger in the air trying to follow the wind.

On an off topic question, I see at mass young children and non catholics who go up at communion with arms folded for a blessing. Is this somewhere in Catholic teaching or cannon law? Also, if you are a lay eucharistic minister and they come up, what are you supposed to do, give them a blessing? I thought that was for priest to give blessings.

joeh said...

One more thing, I think the same thing can be said about Catholic bishops and priests. those most effective are natural leaders that believe the teachings of the church and proclaim them boldly. I wonder how many of today's bishops would be reelected if they had to run for their office.

Seamus said...

Nice post, Father. Your words today are about 90% on point. Accordingly, you get to take that leisurely trot around all four (home run), but at the same time, I hope you'll forgive me for not referencing "The Red Seat at Fenway" with respect to this particular blog of yours.

What?? Why is this dude rambling on about Fenway Park?

"The GOP did not win [in 1994] because of the stupid, vastly overrated 'Contract with America.' Who remembers what the 10 items were; let along what elements were enacted?"

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. Well, maybe it wasn't a sin per se, but I certainly did cheat a little. I confess that just before writing these words, I ran to Google and, 12 years after the fact, "refreshed my memory" as to the specific items that actually were in "The Contract With America."

Having said that, and far from being "stupid" or "vastly overrated," The Contract With America was an act of sheer political genius.

It is important to recall what "The Contract" was. It was, at its core, 10 items that the then Republican minority supported and which the then Democratic majority did not support. Even better, the Republicans chose 10 items that, according to the polls at the time, the American people overwhelmingly supported. (e.g, Welfare reform, auditing Congress, forcing Congress to live under the same rules it made the rest of us live under, tax cuts, reducing Congressional committees, etc.)

Moreover, "The Contract" was, well, precisely that: a contract with the American people. Newt Gingrich stood before the American people and said that if you elect a Republican majority, we will vote on these ten items within the first 100 days of taking power. Soon-to-be Speaker Gingrich -- the first Republican Speaker in 40 years, mind you -- even had a little card that he promised to "punch" with his hole puncher each time the GOP majority in the House delivered on a particular promise. (Granted, the hole puncher thing made for great political theater -- PR, raw and pure.)

The political effect -- the genius part -- was that "The Contract" had the effect of nationalizing Congressional elections that heretofore had been local affairs. (Who can forget Speaker Tip O'Neil's often-quoted remark that "all elections are local?") Before 1994, polls consistently showed that Americans hated the Congress but, at the same time, loved their individual Congressman. As a result, after each Congressional election, the same monkeys came back to Washington, so to speak. "The Contract" changed all that. For the first time in a long time, you had some Texans, for example, saying to themselves, "Well, I really do like Congressman Jack Brooks (former Chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee), but I think I'd like to see some 'regime change' in the House of Representatives. Therefore, I think I'll vote for whoever this guy is that is running against Jack."

And it worked! Again, The Contract was an act of sheer political genius.

The Fine Print: The Contract With America

Seamus said...

"But it's hardly a secret that nearly all the signs point to the GOP taking a beating next month."

Indeed! That said, what would any discussion of an upcoming general election be without making some reference to the actual poll numbers? That would be like watching the Super Bowl late in the Fourth Quarter without knowing what the score was.

The Score: A Look At The State-By-State, Congressional District-By-Congressional District Polling Numbers (Updated Daily)

Even More Poll Numbers

Catholic Wife and Mother said...

Good post, Father, and I completely agree with you. The leaders of the GOP need to read this because they don't have a clue as to why they are losing the votes of people like me.

I am on the GOPUSA mailing list, and when they send out e-mails talking about the importance of voting -- and voting for their party -- they seem clueless as to why they are losing votes. "Trimming the agenda" tops the list, in my opinion.

The sad thing is, should they lose this fall, I don't know that they'll understand WHY it happened. And everyone will be pointing to Iraq, Bush, Foley, etc. But they'll be wrong. At least as far as this voter goes. . .

Esther said...

Very well written Father. Here in the Aloha State, the incumbent Senator Akaka won the primary. The Republican candidate who won had to bow out because of health problems. So who does our local GOP office select to take his place, a very liberal, Democrat in GOP clothing. I guess their thinking is that at least the Republicans will stand a chance in winning. What's a voter to do?

Seamus said...

"The policy we've gotten from the GOP the past few years is precisely the sort of thing 'moderates' like Olympia Snowe and Mike DeWine would vote for -- because it's been their votes the leadership has had to court. This hand-wringing crowd always says the correct thing about spending -- 'not too much!' -- but really, when have they ever done anything truly useful?" -- Father Fox

Umm ... Let me go out on a limb here and say that their votes on Tuesday, January 4, 2005 probably met with your approval. To wit:

Clerk of the US Senate: "On the Question of Who Shall Be the Duly Elected the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, How, Senator DeWine, do you vote? Frist or Reid?"

Senator DeWine: "Frist"

Clerk of the US Senate: "On the Question of Who Shall Be the Duly Elected the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, How, Senator Snowe, do you vote? Frist or Reid?"

Senator Snowe: "Frist"

Clerk of the US Senate: "On the Question of Who Shall Be the Duly Elected the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, How, Senator Chafee, do you vote? Frist or Reid?"

Senator Chafee: "Frist"

Clerk of the US Senate: "On the Question of Who Shall Be the Duly Elected the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, How, Senator Specter, do you vote? Frist or Reid?"

Senator Specter: "Frist"

Clerk of the US Senate: "On the Question of Who Shall Be the Duly Elected Majority Leader of the United States Senate, How, Senator Collins, do you vote? Frist or Reid?"

Senator Collins: "Frist"

Clerk of the US Senate: "On the Question of Who Shall Be the Duly Elected Majority Leader of the United States Senate, How, Senator McCain, do you vote? Frist or Reid?"

Senator McCain: "Frist"

I could go on, but I think I have made my point. Look at the map. It is pretty damn hard to form a majority, much less the 60 votes needed for a cloture-proof Republican majority ("The Promised Land"), without those moderate Republicans that you are so quick to dismiss.

Tell me, Father, just how many of these moderate Republicans are you going to miss when the new Senate reconvenes in January of 2007? Will you miss Senator DeWine when Senator Leahy is taking over chairmanship of the oh-so-powerful Senate Judiciary Committee? Do you think that the pro-gun, pro-life agendas that you and I would very much like to see enacted will somehow be advanced under Senator Leahy's leadership where they would not be advanced under Senator Specter's leadership? How about Supreme Court nominees? Do you think we will get another nominee like Sam Alito or John Roberts through the Senate when the likes of Ted Kennedy and Chuck Schumer are in the majority?

The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Are you so willing. Father, to demand of Republican nominees 100% allegiance to the hard-right agenda that you would, as an alternative, welcome the likes of "Speaker Pelosi" and "Majority Leader Reid" into positions of power? Whether you realize it or not, that is exactly what you are doing.

Tim said...

I think the doom and gloom predicted for Republicans is overblown. What alternative are the Dems offering?
"I'm not Bush!"
"Bush lied, kids died."

I, too, like Seamus, think the COntract With America was key in the election results of 1994.

Rob said...

I think fears of a GOP ;oss are overblown, but I agree with your point, father. Republicans in control for twelve years and we are still murdering a millio infants a year. The party of life? I don't think so.

I'm going to vote for the Pope.

Admin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Father Martin Fox said...

If you are wondering why a comment was deleted, here's my letter to the poster:

Dear Madam or Sir:

I do not appreciate you visiting my site and posting there for the obvious purpose of proselytism.

This is outrageous behavior and deeply offensive. Your comment will be deleted shortly.

I don't know that you would like it, were I to visit your website and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ -- who is the world's only salvation, there is no other.

You are welcome to comment on my site if those comments are pertinent. But proselytism for Islam will not be tolerated at all.

Sincerely yours, in Christ Jesus the Lord,

Father Martin Fox

ron kozar said...

During the baseball season, the Yankees gain ground not only every time they win a game, but also every time the Red Sox lose a game.

By the same token, the Democrats gain a vote not just every time someone casts a vote for them, but also every time a Republican or a conservative stays home and simply doesn't vote.

Either way, you help elect Democracts. Are you really so fed up with the Republicans that you want to do that?

Cantor said...

Sorry to be completely and blatantly off-topic, but:

Fr., what would you think of, just for the last two weeks of Ordinary Time (i.e. the weeks with an eschatological bent), the priest facing liturgical east during the relevant parts of the Mass?

Anonymous said...

You make some valid points about the GOP ignoring it's base. However, this election is too important to stay home and sit on your hands. If you think your concerns haven't been adequately addressed now, just wait. How does a retreat from the war on terror, repeal of tax cuts, blocked federal judges and impeachment hearings strike you. Politics is for grown ups. It's not about getting everything you want, it's about getting what you can. Anyone who doesn't vote to "send a message" to Mike Dewine or any other RINO better sit back for the next several years and take their medicine. With the built in advantages for incumbents, taking back the Congress would be an 8-10 year process at least.

Father Martin Fox said...

Some of you seem to think I have power to determine the fate of the GOP; I'm flattered.

However, all I'm doing here is reporting on the situation they created. (Actually, for my part, I'm doing what I can -- a fair amount -- to help re-elect solidly prolife members of Congress, and to prompt more Congressmen to be 100% prolife. That's what I'm doing.)

Cantor:

I have no problem with the priest facing the same direction as the people; that makes a lot of sense to me. But I think such a change needs a lot of explaining. Whether it is the premier change needed in the liturgy? I dunno.

FrV said...

Don't believe the polls as expounded by the establishment media. They have a vested interest in seeing Republicans lose and you have to examine each poll to see who conducted it and how it was conducted.

The GOP dropped the ball on some things but as pointed out on talk radio (Limbaugh) the President was often out of sync with his party especially the House in issues like spending and immigration.

It makes zero sense in my view to stay home from the polls to teach the GOP a lesson when a) Democrats are responsible for a lot of the mess and b)Democrats will be worse in issues of national security, taxes, immigration, life-issues, the Supreme Court.

I don't buty the media spin. I think the GOP will hold on and the pundits will have egg on their face again.

Father Martin Fox said...

Seamus:

Your lengthy point about the vote on organizing the Senate was completely unnecessary: I made clear in my original post why I faulted moderates like DeWine and Snowe, and the GOP in general.

That said, I don't particularly hold any brief for the GOP controlling the Senate or House. You may not realize I'm a veteran of many years of politics, before I entered the seminary; and every election cycle is presented by partisans, as a "must win!" One of the terrible temptations in politics is sort of Pelagian: everything rides on this election, success for my candidate or party!

If you work in politics, you do well not to fear "losing." I put "losing" in quotes because there are losses and then there are losses. Some losses are very fruitful, others not; just as some victories can be utterly sterile. There's a much larger dynamic at work.

Not only is the fate of the nation not sealed with election outcomes, neither is the fate of any particular policy. To listen to the rhetoric people offer, you'd think we were electing dictators who -- once elected, could do what they please until the next election.

In reality, our wonderful system provides lots and lots of ways to frustrate enactment of new policy. It is simply wrong to suggest that a party (D or R) taking control equals enactment of their agenda -- let alone their more controversial aspects.

Think! What am I and many conservatives seem to be complaining about: the GOP got elected, and failed to enact its agenda! (Actually my complaint is more subtle, as I'll explain presently; but this makes the point that just because you win on Election Day, doesn't mean you get Carte Blanche.)

So folks should calm themselves. Yes, if the Democrats take control, it will mean fits for Bush. It will mean Bush will tack left; it means they will generate lots of sturm und drang through hearings and other PR exercises, to stir up their base. They'll get something passed; the question is, how will it compare with what would have passed with the GOP (and we might consider all the nonsense they did pass, when they had control).

I'm not saying I want them to win; I don't. I'm saying, cool the "the sky is falling" talk.

Back to my actual complaint. I fault the GOP not so much for failing to enact more things into law -- because I very much understand, better than you may realize, and better than many others do -- how hard it really is to enact legislation.

Rather, I fault them for two things: one, they did enact a lot of bad things; and insofar as it's a lot easier to stop legislation than to enact it, they are to blame for not stopping more nonsense.

Second, I fault them for failing to advance a lot of things they said they favored. Note my choice of words: "advance." By that I mean, not "enact" -- which, as stated, is very hard -- but I mean, rather, doing lots of other useful things they can do to move toward enactment. For example, hold hearings and schedule floor votes.

The usual rhetoric -- straight from the GOP apologetics squad -- is that hearings and votes on bills that "won't pass" is a waste of time. Utter nonsense.

An awful lot of what Congress does is such a "waste of time" -- so the question is, on what issues will they hold such hearings? All I'm suggesting is, consult that list of things you said you would advance, and attend to them.

Second, record votes. The stated reason is that it's pointless to have a vote on a bill that won't pass. False.

It's very valuable for identifying who's on which side -- and making that an issue for the next election. It also galvanizes the issue for broader public debate and mobilization.

It lays the groundwork for enacting the bill down the road; and if that particular bill never gets enacted, it still helps elect people who are on the right side -- and hence, enact other good legislation.

No, the real reason the leadership failed to schedule record votes on a lot of things is because they cared about other things more, plus -- and this takes me back to my critique of folks like Dewine -- because the so-called "moderates" squawk about being made to cast such votes.

There is nothing a politician hates more than having to go on record before all the world. "Yes"/ "No" is brutally clear, and eminently useful to the public.

Every election is going to be about something. One of the reasons I think the GOP is having fits this fall (and I make no predictions; they may pull it out) is because they failed to take the necessary steps to have this election be about the right things -- meaning, the issues that best galvanize the coalition that elected them. Instead, it ends up being more about things that don't do them any good, or actually hurt them.

And that is no one's fault but their own. Certainly not the media.

Let me tell you, getting the kind of media coverage you want is not that hard. It really isn't; I used to do it for a living! When I did it, we didn't have a ton of money, we didn't have the most galvanizing issue, and we certainly didn't control two branches of the federal government! But we got all the useful media we wanted. So please don't blame the media.

No, the GOP has had every opportunity to "frame the debate" and they have succeeded! They've framed it in terms of what they've done, and failed to do. To a large extent, the latter explains the "issue vacuum" that leaves room for things like the Foley mess (if that even ends up being significant, which I find dubious anyway).

Todd said...

I'll agree this is well written--Fr Fox is a great writer. But it's easy to take exception to his politics.

"the GOP took power in 1994 in reaction to the agenda the Democrats -- in Congress and the White House -- were advancing: higher taxes, bigger spending, more government (including a health-care plan), more advocacy for abortion, more gun control, more power for union bosses, and probably a few other things I've forgotten."

Curious how the R's today embrace just about everything they supposedly opposed in their Contract on America. Today we have bigger spending, more government, not terribly fewer abortions, more power for business bosses.

I wouldn't mind seeing the R's get swept out of their federal majorities--if the D's can recast themselves to take the higher road in 2007 to reach out in cooperation.

But I can't help but think this would have been a great year for a third party to make some inroads. The two-party system is not enshrined in the constitution, and I've yet to see a convincing argument that it's a benefit for the US citizenry. A viable third party would nearly guarantee that elected officials would actually work together.

So to respond to the question, "What will become of the GOP?" I hope it folds. I hope the D's fold, too. A century is a long-enough lifespan for a political party.

Father Martin Fox said...

Todd:

Feel free to take exception to my politics :-) -- I figure people can handle these differences. I figure this is my public/private outlet, apart from my roles as teacher, sanctifier and shepherd.

About third parties and the Constitution.

Technically, you are correct that the Constitution doesn't spell out a two-party system, but my intuition is that I could show, with some careful analysis, that the Constitution seems designed to foster it. I use the word "intuition" because if you asked me to prove that, I might be thin on that front; it's just my sense of things.

In any case, I happen to think the development of the two party system has been a great blessing for our union. It has provided some balance between a system that might make it too easy to get things done, vs. a system in which things are paralyzed. Having two parties, rather than multiple parties, has tended to force those focused on particular issues to be part of larger coalitions; and it has tended away from extremism.

Also, a two-party system generally means that someone wins, and therefore, someone can govern.

The happy result has been that what is frustrated is radical changes in direction, but in matters of necessary, day-to-day decisions, domestic policy enjoying broad support, and essential issues of foreign policy and national defense, the nation isn't usually paralyzed.

I'm not saying none of that would have been true with multiple parties, but I would point out several things. First, that with multi-party elections, someone can win on the basis of only s plurality of votes.

Second, multi-party coalitions in a parliamentary system sure seem to me awfully fragile.

Third, we've had multi-party elections; the last multi-party win in the electoral college was, I think, Lincoln's first election.

I realize how venerated Lincoln is, but I think we need to speak plainly: but for the division of the Democratic party, the Democrat almost certainly would have won that election, and my guess is that the salient issues of the time would have been dealt with more incrementally, and less cataclysmically.

It's one thing to look back on what actually happened and like the result; it's a whole other thing to be sanguine about the prospect of them: namely, the bloodiest war in our history.

So however shocking this may be to some, count me as someone who wishes that war could have been avoided. The abolition of slavery was certainly necessary and good; yet what Lincoln actually gave with one hand, was mostly, quickly taken back, in subsequent events, by the other hand of his successors; meanwhile, all those folks were still dead, and the country has never been the same since. We got better in several ways, but we got worse, too (in my opinion); it's just piety to pretend it was all good.

I might also recall the election of -- I believe -- 1824, in which the election was thrown into the House. Adams prevailed, but Jackson came roaring back; and the acrimony not only lasted a long time, it animated the politics during those four years.

Meanwhile, when you have two parties, victory almost always requires a president to win more than regionally, and this tends toward a more decisive outcome that will tend to enjoy more legitimacy for the nation. Even if you cite Bush's win in 2000 -- for all the problems, had that been a multi-party election, I think the level of acrimony and ugliness would have been worse.

Father Martin Fox said...

...I shouldn't have said Lincoln's election in 1860 was the "last" electoral win involving multiple parties, because that overlooks Wallace in 1968, and Thurmond way back in what, 1948? I guess what I should have said was that Lincoln's win would seem to be the last in which someone won who -- it is highly debatable -- would have won otherwise. (I'm assuming the outcomes of the 20th century, in which a third-party candidate got electoral votes, would have been the same.)

Darwin said...

Given the extent to which the Republicans have back-burnered their agenda and gotten themselves tied up in scandals, it seems likely to me that they're going to lose the Congress either in 06 or 08.

Given that, I'd kind of rather see it happen now than later. If they lose the House, or even the whole congress now, we'll at least still have Bush in office to (finally) veto legislation as necessary. And I suspect that the Democrats will sufficiently embarrass themselves by over reaching (it wouldn't totally surprise me if they even attempted an impeachment, just because it would be so dear to their base) that it would hurt their chances in the 08 elections.

It almost seems like the worst case scenario would be the Republicans just barely holding their majority by a few seats, and then going through another two years of getting little positive achieved and having more congressional scandals pop up. At that point, the Democratic candidate for president could run against the congress as well as Bush, and whoever the Republicans nominate would have an even harder time.

joeh said...

Father, you last two posts were very good. You certainly give one a lot to think about when you write. I suspect you were very good in your political life.

On the issue of third parties, one should not forget Mr Perot. Without him, we probably would not have had a Clinton presidency.

Dave Oatney said...

Father;
It is as I have said before-when Republicans believe they can take their base for granted, they will lose. If the Dems win this election, it will not be because the country has taken a hard turn to the Left, but because Republicans failed in the ultimate thing they promised in 1994: Restore and uphold the Constitution of the United States

Seamus said...

"No, the real reason the leadership failed to schedule record votes on a lot of things is because they cared about other things more, plus -- and this takes me back to my critique of folks like Dewine -- because the so-called "moderates" squawk about being made to cast such votes."

Father, forcing a recorded vote in the Congress is, per longstanding rule(s), a rather simple matter. A single Member of the House or a single Senator requests it, and the presiding officer determines whether one-fifth of those present want a recorded vote. If so, the vote must be recorded. I can honestly say that I can not recall a single instance in, say, the last 20 years where a Senator or a Congressman wanted a recorded vote and was denied one.

Moreover, and given the competitive nature of both bodies, and with politics being what it is, if someone felt that there was any political gain to be had by forcing a recorded vote, it would be done.

US House Of Representatives Committee On Rules

US Senate

Father Martin Fox said...

Seamus:

With all respect, I used to work in politics, and I know a great deal about how to force a floor vote, and why they don't happen. I don't claim to be an expert on the rules of the House and Senate, but I am well aware a Senator can rather easily force a vote. (It is far less easy in the House.)

However, it isn't that simple. It is a rare Senator or Representative who will insist on a floor vote when other members make it known they don't want that vote; and even moreso, when leadership makes it clear, it doesn't want that vote.

My point is, it is folks like Dewine who, behind the scenes, let it be known they don't want to have to cast a vote on the legislation I wanted to see voted on (and not just me, but many conservatives).

Father Martin Fox said...

By the way, Seamus, I wasn't speaking of getting a recorded vote on a bill that's on the floor; I was speaking of getting a vote on a bill that's been introduced, and not brought to the floor. You seem to be speaking of getting a recorded versus voice vote. That's not what I was referring to. I was referring to getting bills to the floor and voted on at all.

And it is far from easy, under the rules, for that to happen in the House, due to how the Rules Committee works, and due to the rule of germaneness. In the Senate, however, things are looser, and it's fairly easy to get a vote if you try hard enough.

Seamus said...

"By the way, Seamus, I wasn't speaking of getting a recorded vote on a bill that's on the floor; I was speaking of getting a vote on a bill that's been introduced, and not brought to the floor. You seem to be speaking of getting a recorded versus voice vote. That's not what I was referring to. I was referring to getting bills to the floor and voted on at all."

That is precisely what I was referring to, Father. Indeed, that is what I thought you meant. Thanks for clearing it up for me.

Since we are now, I assume, speaking of votes taken in committee, were you suggesting in an earlier post that a recorded vote should be taken in committee on each and every bill referred to that committee, regardless of whether that bill is ever sent to the whole House or the entire Senate for the consideration of all members?

Incidentally, it what committee and with respect to which particular issue did Senator DeWine deny conservatives a recorded vote?

Father Martin Fox said...

No Seamus, we're still talking about votes on the floor of the main body of the Senate.

Let me explain.

Not all bills introduced into the House or Senate are given a vote "on the floor" -- meaning, before the entire body. Only a certain percentage of such bills are scheduled by the leadership, or find their way there in other ways.

My point was that it behooves conservatives to have particular bills reach the floor of both houses, and be voted on, in a recorded vote, by all members. And I am faulting the GOP leadership for failing to schedule a number of issues for such votes.

As discussed, in the Senate, a particular member can, through procedure, bring a bill to the floor for such a vote, even when its not scheduled for a vote. (This can happen in the House, but it's much harder.) But doing that means irritating other members of the body; for that matter, the leadership incurs the same irritation when it schedules such votes -- which is part of why they don't do it.

I am not advocating every bill get a vote in committee -- or on the floor. Gimme a break.

Leadership involves making choices: what policies do you advocate, what will you oppose? So the GOP leadership should be selecting particular bills to bring through the committees to the floor (and they do).

Further, even where a bill may not be guaranteed to pass, they should still bring them up for votes, for reasons cited much earlier. That such a bill may not pass doesn't change the fact that the vote is useful.

My point about Dewine and those members who tend to think like him is that I do identify them as the faction that the GOP leadership has deferred to in not bringing particular bills for such votes:
the Life at Conception Act, and the National Right to Work Act. Both would be votes Dewine wouldn't like being forced to cast, yea or nea. So not having any vote at all is far preferable. And the same goes for lots of members of Congress.

I can imagine other legislation that would be in the same catagory, but I'm less familiar with specific legislation in those areas: federalism issues, spending, guns, taxes, etc.

This is part of how Washington works.

Seamus said...

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Father. I mean that sincerely. I don't mean to speak unnecessarily on a topic that many readers to this blog site will, no doubt, find esoteric, but parliamentary procedure has been an interest of mine since my undergraduate years. I might as well tap into your expertise while I have the opportunity.

That said, are you talking about a recorded vote on a particular bill when that bill has not yet cleared both the committee to which it was assigned as well as the Rules Committee? Are you talking about a discharge petition? If you are, then I would agree with you that that particular means of passing or considering a bill is a very rare occurrence indeed, particularly in the House of Representatives. (Although I do note that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did pass the House via that route.) Circumventing the committee process, after all, strikes at the very power base that committee chairmen hold and wield.

As the following link from the Parliamentarian of the House of Representative points out, a bill can be forced out of committee(s) by means of a discharge petition when a majority of the overall membership (218 in the House) signs that petition.

Motion To Discharge Committee

How Our Laws Are Made

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

Seamus said...

"My point about Dewine and those members who tend to think like him is that I do identify them as the faction that the GOP leadership has deferred to in not bringing particular bills for such votes: the Life at Conception Act, and the National Right to Work Act. Both would be votes Dewine wouldn't like being forced to cast, yea or nea. So not having any vote at all is far preferable. And the same goes for lots of members of Congress."

Without speaking to the minutia of parliamentary procedure in the Senate (although I would like to do just that for selfish reasons), let me ask you this, Father:

(1) Are the two bills that you mentioned above -- not to mention other issues dear to the hearts of conservatives -- more likely to receive favorable treatment in a US Senate controlled by Republicans, as opposed to a US Senate controlled by Democrats?

(2) As you look to the political landscape as it currently exists the United States today, do you think that maintaining and/or forming a Republican majority in the Senate would be easier or more difficult with moderate Republicans such as Senator DeWine, Senator Chaffee, Senator McCain, Senator Snowe, Senator Collins and others being excluded from the equation?

Seamus said...

"Leadership involves making choices: what policies do you advocate, what will you oppose?" -- Father Fox

Indeed! I would also add that leadership also includes knowing when to remain silent as well, particularly if remaining silent on a particular issue helps a comrade that will become all the more vulnerable -- politically speaking, that is -- should he be forced to speak on a particular issue. (e.g., Senator DeWine being forced to vote on Right to Work legislation; NJ Senate Candidate Tom Kean, Jr. being forced to speak on gun control issues)

As any successful general and/or Jersey City street fighter will be quick to point out, knowing when to fight is often more important than knowing how to fight. If you pardon the cliche, we all pick our battles in this life, and nowhere is that more evident than in the arena that is the US Congress. The particular merits of those individual political battles notwithstanding, surely we can all agree that being in the majority is preferable to being in the minority. As such, I have to imagine that Priority # 1 on the "Senate Majority Leader's List of Things to Do" has to be "Stay in Majority!"

That said, I am sincerely at a loss when I speak to conservative Republicans that get so angry at moderate Republicans that they are, politically speaking, all too willing to throw the baby out with the bath water. (Damn, two cliches in one post. Forgive me for sounding like a college sophomore here.) It is, to say the least, frustrating to see Republicans all too willing to forsake getting 80% of what they want because getting that much of the pie involves some element of compromise to moderate wing of the party. Is 100% allegiance to conservative political orthodoxy that important that the alternative -- being in the minority -- seems like an attractive alternative?

Ideally, I am sure conservatives would love to have a Jesse Helms clone represent them in the Senate in every state in the Union. Inversely, liberals across the land would, I am sure, be all too happy to call Frank Lautenberg or Ted Kennedy "my senator." The stark political reality, however, is that neither scenario will ever play itself out. It's not going to happen at any time in our lifetimes either. Lest we forget, less than 600 votes in Florida decided the Presidential election in 2000. If 300,000 voters in Ohio voted the other way in 2004, "former President" George W. Bush (#43) would, today, be in Texas whilst giving tours of his new taxpayer-funded library. In short, we are a politically polarized nation.

That being the case, I respectfully return to the same question: Is the conservative agenda better served by having moderate Republicans in the tent or out of the tent?

As always, Father, I would be interested in your thoughts.

Father Martin Fox said...

Seamus:

I don't mind discussing this; it just makes for long, boring posts, on my part.

"you talking about a recorded vote on a particular bill when that bill has not yet cleared both the committee to which it was assigned as well as the Rules Committee?"

Yes. Not that big a deal in the Senate, moreso in the House.

"Are you talking about a discharge petition?"

No need for a discharge petition in the Senate at all; not necessary in the House if there's an "open" rule for a particular bill, and the bill can be offered as an amendment. E.g., the Life at Conception Act would certainly be germane as an attachment to another prolife bill, if we wanted to go that route.

Discharge petitions are very rare, but having a bill reach the floor without approval in the assigned committee isn't that unusual. Basically, in the House it happens if the leadership allows it; in the Senate, it can happen if a Senator does it, but most Senators don't have the determination to do it. Some do; it's not unprecedented at all.

"Circumventing the committee process, after all, strikes at the very power base that committee chairmen hold and wield."

Oh, I'm not saying they like it, but it's hardly some radical thing to do. Again, because of how the House works, it pretty much only happens at the initiative of the leadership; because that's how almost every bill reaches the floor. (I.e., even if a bill clears a committee, which the committee chairman controls, it only then reaches the floor if leadership says yes.)

"Are the two bills that you mentioned above -- not to mention other issues dear to the hearts of conservatives -- more likely to receive favorable treatment in a US Senate controlled by Republicans, as opposed to a US Senate controlled by Democrats?"

Given that the Life at Conception Act hasn't reached the floor of either house, I'd say it seems not to matter -- on that issue -- which party runs things. As noted above, Senate rules work such that one Senator -- say, a Coburn or a Brownback -- could force it to the floor, as easily under Democratic as GOP leadership.

In the House, it's theoretically more likely to reach the floor under Republicans -- only it hasn't happened . . . at all.

The National Right to Work Act was voted on, in the Senate, in 1996. Members of the GOP leadership in the House have claimed, since 1994, they were for a floor vote; but have blocked the bill every year since. So on this bill, a Democratic-led House would not be any worse.

"As you look to the political landscape as it currently exists the United States today, do you think that maintaining and/or forming a Republican majority in the Senate would be easier or more difficult with moderate Republicans such as Senator DeWine, Senator Chaffee, Senator McCain, Senator Snowe, Senator Collins and others being excluded from the equation?"

Hard to say, because there are opportunities to pick up GOP Seats elsewhere. But who's proposing running them out? Have I suggested the GOP should expel them? Have I suggested they should be defeated? Feel free to quote me to that effect.

Rather, my point was and is that the strategy of avoiding issues that mobilize key elements of the conservative coalition that prevailed in 1994 is a recipe for losing control, sooner or later. IF (I make no predictions!) it happens in two weeks, I assert this will be why.

So to the extent your question seems to assume that a desire on my part to be rid of these folks is threatening the GOP's majority, you're completely wrong. I'm not doing anything to get rid of these folks.

Rather, I'm saying that the approach these moderates have contributed to is harmful to the interests of the GOP majority staying in control. And that's their fault. I've been sounding the alarm since 1994. They haven't taken my advice: which is to force votes on issues that mobilize elements of the coalition, regardless of whether the bill will pass, this year.

If you think their following my advice will hurt Ms. Snowe or Mr. Dewine, then I simply disagree. I happen to think they'd be better off being on the right side. If they believe otherwise, then we'll see who's right. But if they pay a price for voting on a bill I, as a citizen, pressed be brought to the floor, that's not my fault, because I didn't do anything to make them vote wrong.

Seamus said...

"As you look to the political landscape as it currently exists the United States today, do you think that maintaining and/or forming a Republican majority in the Senate would be easier or more difficult with moderate Republicans such as Senator DeWine, Senator Chaffee, Senator McCain, Senator Snowe, Senator Collins and others being excluded from the equation?" -- Seamus

"Hard to say, because there are opportunities to pick up GOP Seats elsewhere. But who's proposing running them out? Have I suggested the GOP should expel them? Have I suggested they should be defeated? Feel free to quote me to that effect." -- Father Fox (in response to the quote above)

Okay, I accept your invitation to quote you:

"If the GOP goes down in flames in three weeks, there will be a certain justice if Ohio Senator Mike Dewine goes with it: because the GOP that loses will be one that trimmed its agenda to suit him." -- Quoting Father Fox ("Posted by Father Martin Fox at 8:50 PM October 18, 2006" -- on this very thread, no less.)

Father Martin Fox said...

Seamus:

Nothing you just quoted indicates I want anyone to lose.

I said there would be a "certain justice" if they did. That means what they'd caused to happen would come back on themselves.

I.e., they did it to themselves.

Please cite when I made Mr. Dewine et al. do it to themselves.

I don't know you, but you seem a bright enough fellow, so I have to wonder if you're being deliberately obtuse.

Seamus said...

"Rather, my point was and is that the strategy of avoiding issues that mobilize key elements of the conservative coalition that prevailed in 1994 is a recipe for losing control, sooner or later." -- Father Fox

Father, the American people, of which "the conservative coalition" to which you speak was and is only but a small minority, elected the Congress in 1994. As pointed out before, those voters were attracted to the agenda advanced in "The Contract With America," a document that called for, among other things, auditing Congress and reducing the number of Congressional staff and/or Committees. (A link I provided above speaks to all of the issues contained in that "Contract.") That said, I am surprised to see you mention the 1994 election at all. Need I remind you that it was you, yourself, and in a post just above, that referred to that same "Contract With America" as being "stupid" and/or "vastly overrated?"

With all due respect, that particular election (1994) -- which, I might add, most certainly did center around "The Contract With America" -- most certainly did not center around the hot-button issues of gun control, gay marriage, union-busting "Right to Work" legislation, abortion, continued US membership in the UN, etc. Those issues may certainly mobilize the conservative base of the Republican Party, but they are issues where Congressional Republicans in more moderate states (e.g, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, CT, and elsewhere) must have the freedom to vote against their party's leadership, particularly if those moderates are to have any hope of being re-elected at the next election. Truth be told, forcing rank and file Republicans from moderate states like New Jersey to march lock-step with the conservative leadership on all issues is tantamount to political suicide. Demand that and you can kiss good-bye any hopes you have of securing and/or maintaining a Republican majority in the Congress.

Again, are you willing to trade having 80% of the pie that comes with Republican majority status; or are you willing, for the sake of ideological purity, to accept only the crumbs that fall from the Democrats' table -- something that will certainly happen should the Republicans ever find themselves in the minority once again?

Seamus said...

"I don't know you, but you seem a bright enough fellow, so I have to wonder if you're being deliberately obtuse." -- Father Martin Fox

Well, thanks, Father. Please allow me to return the favor. I don't think anyone will call you the village idiot anytime soon either.

"Nothing you just quoted indicates I want anyone to lose."

As my 14 year-old daughter is all too fond of saying, "Puh-leeeze!"

Please don't insult the intelligence of your readers, Father, by suggesting that you are now a DeWine cheerleader. You wrote of a "certain justice" that would come with DeWine's defeat that accompanies a Republican loss of their majority status in the Senate. Your disdain for "moderate" Republicans -- you often put the word moderate in italics -- speaks for itself. I or any other reader to this blog most certainly doesn't need an open admission by yourself that you are calling for the defeat of Senator DeWine -- not to mention other "moderate" (please note the quotation marks) Republicans -- to know where your heart and passions lie.

I quote you once again:

"The policy we've gotten from the GOP the past few years is precisely the sort of thing 'moderates' like Olympia Snowe and Mike Dewine would vote for -- because it's been their votes the leadership has had to court. This hand-wringing crowd always says the correct thing about spending -- 'not too much!' -- but really, when have they ever done anything truly useful? Did they stand in the breach to prevent a huge, new expansion of Medicare? Who are you kidding?" -- Father Fox

"If the GOP goes down in flames in three weeks, there will be a certain justice if Ohio Senator Mike Dewine goes with it: because the GOP that loses will be one that trimmed its agenda to suit him." -- Father Fox

Father Martin Fox said...

Seamus:

Yes, I do insist actual legislation that came before Congress, and had actual, recorded votes for and against, played a far greater role in the 1994 election results, than a proposed set of laws, on which no votes had occurred.*

I do assert the defeat of a great number of incumbents was far more due to actual votes they cast, than because their opponents held up a list of things they would vote for, if given the chance.

I believe it because I did it: I did my part, back then, to give politicians fits and enable their constituents to hold them accountable.

You may dismiss the value of these issues, but I can tell you from years of working at this (less, obviously, since entering the seminary), I have seen how it works. I've seen how all these issues elect Republicans across the country.

(If you work in politics, I'd appreciate you sharing your bona fides.)

That it is true that only a segment of the voting population is motivated by a particular issue is irrelevant.

(By the way, I dispute the suggestion that none of the issues I'm talking about are popular. Nearly 80% of Americans support Right to Work, for example; and most Americans are at least mostly prolife; few support the status-quo. Etc.)

But, as I say, the putative popularity isn't terribly relevant. For example, it is indisputable that gun control has proven to be a loser for the Democrats, despite the fact that polls routinely show most Americans disagreeing with the strong, principled, gun-rights position of someone like Gun Owners of America.

Are you unconvinced? *Shrug.*

I think it highly amusing that you seem to associate my advice with the GOP losing control. They haven't followed my advice and they are indisputably in trouble.

*I don't know that none of the "Contract with America" proposals had been voted on pre-1994, I suspect some might have. In that case, any bill that was voted on -- and the vote was used in an election -- move that bill from my second category to the first. My point stands in any case.

Seamus said...

"Yes, I do insist actual legislation that came before Congress, and had actual, recorded votes for and against, played a far greater role in the 1994 election results, than a proposed set of laws, on which no votes had occurred.* -- Father Fox

Then your views are in sharp contrast with those of, say, Newt Gingrich, and all too many others who actually were actually elected in 1994. If what you claim is true, why didn't we see a rush in the first few months of 2005 to enact legislation that conservatives favor? (The House was in Democratic hands for 40 years prior to January of 1995, after all.) Why, instead, was such an emphasis put on carrying out the promises spoken to in The Contract With America?" Why did some 340 or more Republican candidates that year make "the contract" a central part of their campaigns -- a contract that you called "stupid" and "overrated"?

"I believe it because I did it: I did my part, back then, to give politicians fits and enable their constituents to hold them accountable." -- Father Fox

"You may dismiss the value of these issues, but I can tell you from years of working at this (less, obviously, since entering the seminary), I have seen how it works. I've seen how all these issues elect Republicans across the country." -- Father Fox

With all due respect, Father, I am not at all impressed with your resume, notwithstanding the fact that you have repeatedly felt the need to speak to it. I haven't found the name "Martin Fox" in any edition of Whose Who in America (or any similar Whose Who book) and I don't expect that I will find it anytime soon. If you have a point to make, please make it without implying that I or others reading this thread should trust your "expert opinion" on political issues, or should otherwise accept them at face value. You are no more of an expert than millions of other Americans with a modicum of political experience in their background and whose resumes are far more impressive than your own.

"By the way, I dispute the suggestion that none of the issues I'm talking about are popular. Nearly 80% of Americans support Right to Work, for example; and most Americans are at least mostly prolife; few support the status-quo. Etc.)"

Then where is the legislation that speaks to these oh-so-popular issues? Conservatives dominate the Congress and the White House, after all. It has been that way for six years now. If 80% of Americans also share these views, why haven't we even seen a floor vote on, say, Right to Work legislation? Surely you aren't suggesting that little ole Mike DeWine of Ohio and a few other "moderates" can stand in the way of such a political tidal wave of popular support for the issues you have mentioned, do you?

"it is indisputable that gun control has proven to be a loser for the Democrats, despite the fact that polls routinely show most Americans disagreeing with the strong, principled, gun-rights position of someone like Gun Owners of America."

I, for one, live in a state that recently elected a governor, Jon Corzine, that has repeatedly claimed that there is no right to private gun ownership under our constitution. Not that Jersey is at all representative of the rest of the country, mind you, but Corzine's views do speak to the political climate that all too many "moderate" Republicans in the Northeast face when dealing with issues like gun control.

That said, I am a proud gun owner myself and one of the few actual holders of a CCW (carrying concealed weapon) license in New Jersey. I am also a proud member of the NRA. I doubt you and I will have much to disagree with when it comes to the Second Amendment -- other than which organization has proven most effective at advancing gun owners rights, that is. Tell me, Father, how many members are there in the GOA? There are over 4 million in the NRA. Who gets his call answered first by, say, Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee? Wayne LaPierre of the NRA or someone from the GOA? If the views of the GOA are so "strong and principled," why is the GOA membership so small in comparison to, say, the National Rifle Association?

"I think it highly amusing that you seem to associate my advice with the GOP losing control. They haven't followed my advice and they are indisputably in trouble."

If your "advice" were so good, why isn't anyone following it? Why have the professional politicians with all their money and all their pollsters also ignored your "advice" for all these years that they have held power? That said, the GOP is in trouble in the coming weeks. It isn't, however, because they ignored the advice of the ultra-right wing; rather it is because they, like yourself, foolishly thought the American people are far more conservative than they actually are.

Father Martin Fox said...

Seamus:

You have no idea how gratifying it is to me that you aren't impressed.

There's no reason to continue this.

Seamus said...

"I believe it because I did it: I did my part, back then, to give politicians fits and enable their constituents to hold them accountable." -- Father Fox

Living in Herndon, VA and working for an ineffectual 501(c)(4) non-profit organization like The National Right To Work Committee does not make one an expert on all matters political, Father, nor would your resume engender anything but yawning. A political powerbroker you most certainly were not. It is both hilarious and sad that you would now claim that you brought "fits" to politicians while "holding them accountable to their constituents." You did nothing of the kind, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself for claiming otherwise.

"There's no reason to continue this." -- Father Fox

Agreed

Father Martin Fox said...

Seamus:

That last comment is not the first discourtesy you have shown me, but it is the last I will endure.

Anonymous said...

Father,
you are so patient. Thank you for being such a good example for the rest of us.
Praise to our God for our priests!
Joe