Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ask Commentarama

Today we announce a new feature: Ask Commentarama. You ask questions, and I’ll see what I can do about answering them. Think of it like an e-mail bag, where you get to help shape the content of Commentarama. Cool huh? All topics are welcome! Today’s we have two questions. The first is about Evan Bayh. The second is about the Mount Vernon Statement.

Q. What does Commentarama think about Evan Bayh's retirement from the Senate? Will he run for president?
This question comes from “Mike” and it’s an excellent question. The media is currently reporting that Bayh said that he would definitely not run for president. But that’s inaccurate. Bayh was not asked simply if he intended to run for President. He was asked if he would switch parties and run for president against Obama. To that, he said, “no possibility whatsoever.”

And make no mistake he is positioning himself as a future Democratic candidate. For example, those complaints about “partisanship” are actually attacks on the Republicans. Indeed, he has been careful to add that “I’m not angry at my party.” Similarly, he’s praising Obama’s agenda and Obama’s “sincere” efforts at bipartisanship.

So why resign? Consider these facts:
1. Given the pro-Republican tidal wave that’s about to descend on conservative states in 2010, the chances are good that Bayh would lose his seat. If he loses, his chances of becoming President die immediately. But by retiring now he can avoid the stigma of defeat by claiming that he retired out of principle while he was on top -- spreading the word that polls (which you will never see) had him 20 points ahead, are part of this strategy.

2. By retiring, he saves himself $13 million dollars, which goes a long way to starting a race for President.

3. Even if he wins, the next Senate will need to make some very difficult choices. They will need to raise taxes, which will kill his support among moderates, and/or cut spending dramatically, which will kill his support among progressives. There will also be very unpopular decisions vis-à-vis Iran, health care, and environmental issues. By retiring now, he can avoid responsibility for those choices, but still later claim that he would have supported the successful ones.
Thus, I would suspect that once the current storm has passed, Bayh will start campaigning for the Democratic Party’s 2016 nomination as an untainted reformer who was drawn back into politics “to clean up the mess his successors created.” However, he may be underestimating the stranglehold the extreme left has on the Democratic Party primary process. That’s what undid Hillary Clinton and it will keep him from ever getting the nomination. . . unless he does like John Edwards and makes a hard left turn.
Q. What does Commentarama think about the Mount Vernon Statement?
Tough question. For those who don’t know, the Mount Vernon Statement is a manifesto being prepared by various conservative heavy weights (e.g. Brent Bozell, Grover Norquist, Ed Meese, Edwin Feulner, etc.). It is described as follows:
"It's a philosophical foundation, based on the concept of constitutional conservatism. It's written so most conservatives can say, 'Yeah, this is just what I think.'"
So far so good. I’m a firm believer that conservatives need to come together with a statement of principles to help define what it means to be a conservative. Otherwise, people who are not really conservatives can continue to claim that the label applies to their pet peeves.

BUT, based on the little bit I’ve seen, this document suffers from the same problem that causes most activist-driven proclamations to fail: it’s written by people who can’t relate to non-activists. Here is the introductory statement:
In recent decades, America's principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities and our politics. The self-evident truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist. The federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant.

Some insist that America must change, cast off the old and put on the new. But where would this lead — forward or backward, up or down? Isn't this idea of change an empty promise or even a dangerous deception?

The change we urgently need, a change consistent with the American ideal, is not movement away from but toward our founding principles. At this important time, we need a restatement of Constitutional conservatism grounded in the priceless principle of ordered liberty articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The conservatism of the Declaration asserts self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature's God. It defends life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It traces authority to the consent of the governed. It recognizes man's self-interest but also his capacity for virtue.
Uhm, no. This is unreadable. In trying to parrot the language of the 1770’s, they’ve made a document that sounds stilted and out of place today. It’s also hopelessly vague. Notice that it does not define what “self-evident truths” formed this country; there is considerable disagreement about that (even at the time). It meanders and it’s theoretical to the point of being esoteric. Did your blood boil when you read this. . . did you even bother finishing it? Finally, it just confirms the stereotype that conservatives are hopelessly stuck in the past. Indeed, notice that the main opposition seems to be to “change” and “new” ideas. This is the sort of argument conservatives make that just p*sses me off. New issues arise everyday as the human race continues to do new things. Opposing new things is luddite and ignorance of the highest order. It also leaves the left offering the only possible solutions. So stop. What conservatives should be talking about is how to apply conservative principles to new issues, not whining how things were better back when.

So my answer is this -- good idea, poor execution.

That’s our first Ask Commentarama installment. Here’s the deal. If you have any questions, e-mail them to me at or leave them in the comments below (I’ll check back throughout the week.) Then, next Wednesday, I’ll see what I can do about providing answers.


ScottDS said...

Hmm... okay. I'll try a few. :-)

--What should the Republicans do to attract young, middle of the road, independent types such as myself who might agree with them on some issues but not on others (cough, social issues). I have a couple Republican friends but even they joined Facebook groups advocating gay marriage. If they had to take some litmus test, they'd probably pass it by the skin of their teeth.

--Re: movies... I don't want to get into a thing about BH but from reading the comments, it's clear that no one knows what to do. If you want conservative-friendly programming (and no two people can agree what that means), you need conservative-friendly writers, directors, etc. in Hollywood. Or at least open-minded left-leaning ones.

Yet it's clear there are still some people (possibly religious) who wish we had never abandoned the Hays Code and will shun anything higher than a PG, no matter how conservative it is. There are people who think "conservative" is synonymous with "family-friendly" and I don't think that's the case either. Thoughts?

--This is probably the fault of many people (politicians, talking heads, marketing gurus) but can we STOP judging someone's politics from where they shop or what they eat?! I realize, demographically-speaking, there is some truth to this stuff but, hey, I like Whole Foods AND Target. Obama likes arugula? Who gives a s---? It's talk like that that makes me wonder, "Hmm, would Sarah Palin consider me a 'real American'?" Thoughts?

Writer X said...

Andrew, I agree with you on the Mount Vernon document. It sounds like a bad campaign commercial.

Regarding Bayh, unfortunately he's now created the perception that when the going gets rough, he jumps ship. That's not the kind of person I'd want as a President.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, It's the problem with the think tank crew. I knew many of them when I lived in DC and none of them had even a slight grasp of our culture. They don't see movies, they don't watch tv, they don't follow sports. All they do is sit around with like-minded people and talk theoretical politics.

And the more they talk, the further "out there" they get. I could tell you amazing stories of things that these people thought would "light a fire under America" that were so hopelessly wonkish that not one in a million people in the public would have even bothered to listen to.

That's the problem with living in a bubble. I expect this Mt. Vernon statement to disappear into history without ever getting it's 15 minutes of fame.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. On Bayh, I have to disagree. There are right ways and wrong ways to quit. Going out on top is always acceptable. . . quitting when things aren't looking good or under pressure from the other side is not.

Bayh has given a very traditionally-accepted reason for leaving. Combined with his claim that polls show him 20% up, he has made himself appear to be leaving while he's on top.

The public tends to idealize those guys and he will be very much in demand in all future high-profile races until he either turns out to be a tease or he gets into a race and loses.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Good (difficult) questions. I'll see what I can do with Nos. 1 and 2 in an upcoming Ask Commentarama.

As for Number 3, no chance -- there are too many people who are invested in creating those stereotypes, from (1) the politicians themselves, to (2) the stores, to (3) the media, to (4) the public. In an age of high class warfare and populism, this is how politicians and stores cultivate markets. The media likes this as well because it gives them an easy shorthand for their stereotypes. They can't say "white trash" (even though they mean it) so they say "Wal-Mart set," "yuppie" has been discredited so they say "Starbuck set." It's just an easy way to lump people together. The public likes it because they're into celebrity culture, and because they want to feel like they are like the "good guys" and not like the "bad guys."

ScottDS said...

Noted! :-)

I'll try something else: infrastructure. I know I briefly brought it up during an open thread last year but I think it deserves an article: who pays for it, does it create jobs (or not), where it's needed, etc....?

And one last thing re: movies -taking a hint from one of John Nolte's recent lists, we really need some kind of "top guilty pleasures" list. I need an outlet to write about my love of Congo and Trapped in Paradise. :-D If you can't get around to it, I can always write one after the film school blogs (some time in late March/early April).

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I can work on the list! LOL! By guilty pleasures, I take it you mean -- really bad movies that you like watching over and over and over. . . like Congo, or Predator 2?

I'll see what I can do about the infrastructure question!

ScottDS said...

Yes, that's what I mean. I don't think all guilty pleasures are bad; my own definition is a movie or TV show that elicits this response: "Really? You like that?" :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I've got to go with "bad" though because otherwise anything could make the list. I know people who say, "you like Gone With The Wind?" I wouldn't call that a guilty pleasure.

ScottDS said...

True. I realize I should've italicized "that" in my last post because it didn't come out the way I heard it in my head. "Bad" will be fine.

But Last Action Hero isn't bad and will be appreciated one day! :-)

(Okay, Scott, save it for the article.)

Writer X said...

Andrew, good point. I'd agree that although it might be viewed as the smart way to leave, is it the right way? I guess time will tell. I still say he will have to contend with a perception problem.

Perhaps his current high polling numbers reflect that some people like the nuggets of insight he's revealing: Example: "Congress hasn't created a job in six months." But I would contend that it's easy to point fingers and find courage when you take yourself out of the process. Why not stay and fight and make things better? He could have made more of a name for himself that way, I think. To me, it looks like he ran when the going got tough. That's not very appealing to mej, and it's not something I'm likely to forget should he run for a higher office.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: We're in agreement on all points. The wording of the Mount Vernon Statement has to be cleaned up and better-focused. The organizers are ordinarily concise and pointed in their remarks on their own sites, but seemed to have an attack of "words for the ages" when they wrote the Statement. Although I agree with the principles generally as a conservative (and somewhat of an "insider/activist"), and as a lawyer I'm used to seeing overly-pompous language from newbies who haven't learned why they call it a "brief," still these guys are pros, and they should have known better.

In addition, I think we need to remind people that no matter how it is phrased, it is indeed a statement of conservative principles, and should not be conflated with any future Republican Platform. We would like to see certain points made manifest in the future platform, but as we've discussed before, the platform should be a much more generalized and inclusive document which Republicans can agree on and which won't preclude the agreement of independents and moderate/conservative Democrats. We conservatives are a significant force within the Party, but we are not the Party.

On Bayh, I tend to agree with you, although I would also consider that he may also be considering opting for the state governorship. It's less likely, but not outside the realm of possibility.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I don't find Bayh appealing either for the very grounds you mention. But you have to remember, memories are short and the American public is very forgiving. It's all going to be about how he can package his leaving -- that's what he's working on.

(By the way, I doubt the polls he's mentioned are real.)

In terms of staying, I personally would want to stay to make sure that the things that need to be done right will be done right. But he's apparently decided that he'd be better off dodging the issues.

We should all keep that in mind when he does finally run for higher office!

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I agree about the Mt. Vernon Statement.

Bayh could be planning a run for governor -- he held the post for two terms before. But he's also shown himself really wanting to be President -- enough that he ran already. So I think he's trying to plot a course that helps him take that next step. That probably means a publicity tour with a lot of left-wing ideas (like John Edwards did).

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: I agree that the presidency is his more likely target. It could be a real donnybrook. The question is whether he would try to out-liberal Obama, or try to appear as the moderate that the middle-of-the road Democrats and independents would prefer. By doing the latter, he could force Obama to appeal to his real radical base and race conscious special pleaders. Bayh's more popular, better known and less smarmy than Edwards ever was. And to the best of my knowledge, Bayh never channeled dead babies to a jury to get an outrageous damages award. The question is, does Bayh also have some skeletons in his closet?

Bayh has already used the argument that he's leaving Congress because there's too much arguing and too little real accomplishment. That's the "bipartisanship" crap, but Bayh does it better, and for the time being, more believably.

You're absolutely right about the concept that if you're going to give up your current post, leave as a winner so people will already have that in mind when they're considering you for a future post.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Don't misunderstand me -- I don't see Bayh running against Obama. That would be a disaster for him unless he won. His party would hate him after that.

I see him getting ready for a 2016 run, which will begin either in 2013 if Obama is re-elected or 2012 if Obama loses.

To do that, I suspect he's going to publish a book talking about his father's liberal roots. Then he'll develope a "two Americas" speech and he'll start touring Democratic speaking halls, hoping to become the new John Edwards without the sex problems.

Joel Farnham said...


I haven't been able to find the Talking Points Memo which identifies exactly what is wanted in Conservative Candidates in the upcoming 2010 fall elections. Could you reprint or list these?

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, You want a list of conservative points -- like a manifesto?

Have you checked out the "I am a Republican" list here: LINK

Or did you want something more specific/different?

Joel Farnham said...


That is exactly what I wanted. Thank you

Idocrates said...

Well Andrew your observations about the Mount Vernon document are insightful and accurate.

My question for you is, would you rewrite or create anew a document that could meet the requirements you covered? This new document needs to be embraceable by not only the conservative faction but draw in the real Americans across our country.

I agree our country is changing as we progress through time both technologically and socially. With that said we are in a continuous state of change. Can change be good change, reasonable change and not becomes so gross a change as to polarize the people of our country?

AndrewPrice said...

Joel -- You're welcome.

AndrewPrice said...

Idocrates, Very philosophical!

In terms of re-writing the MV Statement, I am totally in favor of having such a document. I think it's important that conservatives create a general statement of bed-rock principles to define ourselves to the public. And I like the idea of writing something that gets the public saying, "yeah, that's what I believe." I just don't think this group is likely to achieve it with the way they've started.

For what I would recommend, take a look at the link I just posted in the comments in response to Joel's question. Here it is again: LINK.

That's my take on a Republican pledge that I found at the GOP website, which was just horrid. I think that would be much more likely to strike a chord with the public -- while also giving red meat to the activists. We could, of course, flesh it out slightly and maybe add a little, but generally, I would recommend something like this.

When we finally see the MV Statement, I'll do another post on it and try to write my own version.


AndrewPrice said...

In terms of "change," I think that change can be both good and bad. What really matters is how we handle the change. If we handle it well, then we're less likely to experience bad change or disruptive (polarizing) change -- and if we do get bad change, then people are more likely to trust us when we say "this particular change is bad."

It’s the difference between giving your kids the tools they need to grow up right, as compared to hoping they don’t grow up.

The problem for our side is that too often conservatives complain that "things aren't like they used to be." That sounds like grumpy nostalgia, which just doesn't appeal to the public and doesn't lead to good policy making.

It also makes it easy for people who seek change (destructive or otherwise) to dismiss conservative criticism as being out-of-touch.

Our side needs to learn to pick and choose our fights better. Never oppose change just because it's change. Only oppose change when it's bad for the country, not just because we don't like it -- conservatives should always remember that the law is not an instrument to impose our personal pet peeves on others.

One of the problems I have with places like Big Hollywood (though I like it a lot) is that they jump on every single slight and start howling at the moon. And in the process, they sound out-of-touch, intolerant, and like they want to ban everything that isn't on a Leave It To Beaver level. That, I think, is what is keeping conservatives from dominating politically -- because a good chunk of otherwise conservative people fear that our side would create an American version of the Taliban if we were given control.

At the same time, that keeps us from making in roads into the culture because it's assumed that we have nothing to contribute since we seem to object to everything -- not to mention, I've see conservative works trashed by conservatives because they missed the point because they had a knee-jerk reaction.

That's the problem as I see it.

I hope that answers your question?

Idocrates said...

Andrew you response is more than I expected.
A very erudite address to the concepts presented.
Thank you

AndrewPrice said...

You're welcome Idocrates. Feel free to tell me if you disagree of course!

MegaTroll said...

Wow, great comments. Good read. Thanks.

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