Thursday, January 6, 2011

Is This A Good Start?

I'm not sure that this is an auspicious start for a Republican Party that took over the House of Representatives claiming to be the party of fiscal responsibility and down-to-earth identification with the struggling middle class. I understand the need to get the freshmen Congressman together to join in a common cause, but a lavish party with re-election as the centerpiece is at least a dubious convocation.

Incoming freshman Congressman Jeff Denham (California, natch) organized a very expensive party to welcome newbie Republicans to Washington DC. Also invited to the fancy-schmantzy Hotel W gala were lobbyists and PAC managers who paid $2500 each for the joy of rubbing elbows with freshmen. The event, held this past Tuesday, featured a performance by country and western star LeAnn Rimes. For the wannabe future influencers of the votes on the public's business, there was an extra package available: $50,000 purchased eight tickets to the event along with a VIP suite where the lobbyists and PACmen can wine and dine the freshmen. Heady stuff, indeed.

Now who doesn't like a good party? But there are plenty of Obamists out there, with the assistance of the MSM, who would love to claim that the new Republicans are fiddling while Rome is burning. One of Denham's PR people, Dave Gilliard, offered the following: "Helping the freshmen get reelected is a project that Denham is very interested in and, of course, his own reelection is part of that. It's such a huge freshman class, and that first reelection is the time that you end up losing people, so he really wants to help keep the majority."

I can't help thinking that this is a very big misunderstanding of what the recent election was about. The freshman Democrats didn't perform at all, or performed badly, and they were defeated by freshman Republicans. The American people would very much like to see some accomplishments from their new representatives before they give any consideration to voting for them again. What Gilliard said is exactly the opposite of that. It's a statement that money and reelection are the important things, and performance is secondary. That has been the accusation the Democrats have been using extremely well against those "rich Republicans" for decades. It's like sex with no foreplay--it feels good when you do it, but it's not very satisfying in the long run.

Denham was previously a two-term California State Senator from a very safe Republican district, and perhaps missed the message the electorate just sent to Congress. He prides himself on being "one of the best fundraisers in the California Legislature." Though he would have won election to replace retiring Republican George Radanovich almost by default, Denham was still only one of two California freshman who had his own PAC. The other is a Democrat.

Fundraising is vitally important to the life of any political party. The adage that still hasn't changed is that "money is the mother's milk of politics." But even the Bible tells us that there's a time an a place for everything under heaven. There are many conservative Republicans who believe that this was neither the time nor the place. Following the "great national malaise" of Jimmy Carter's presidency, Ronald Reagan threw an elaborate and very expensive series of inaugural balls, for which he was excoriated by the left. But that action was both appropriate and necessary to restore America's pride in itself. Fund-raising was certainly a part of the formula, but that was not at all what Reagan was attempting to accomplish.

To flaunt wealth and excess to freshmen Congressmen as the purpose of being a Representative is simply the wrong message. The message from Denham is that if you start fundraising and campaigning immediately after election, you can have all this and much more. Barack Obama is in that mode perpetually. Fortunately a few notable Republican invitees have said "get thee behind me, Denham." Speaker-elect John Boehner was among those declining the invitation, and as of this writing, Majority Leader Eric Cantor hadn't accepted. On the other hand, National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Pete Sessions of Texas accepted the invitation enthusiastically.

As part of the proceedings, Denham has formed a fundraising venture called "America's New Majority," which is the named sponsor of the event. He encouraged freshmen Republicans to join the ANM committee, and as of December 10, eleven of the incoming Republicans had signed up. One unnamed Republican political consultant advised against joining the committee, saying "it's causing a buzz because it's in direct contradiction to the image that leadership is trying to portray as a conference that wants to get down to business."

When Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats took over the House, Republicans (particularly conservatives) strongly criticized and ridiculed the lavish victory party for being both excessive and in bad taste. That extravaganza only cost $1000 per ticket, and featured performances by Tony ("I Left My Wallet In San Francisco") Bennett and what was left of the Grateful Dead. It won't be that hard for the Democrats to place the shoe on the other foot. But at least this time the party leadership is not involved, at least not directly or publicly.

Another Republican fundraising consultant criticized not only the timing and lavishness of the event, but also pointed out that it probably wasn't even cost-effective, costing nearly as much as it raised. He also pointed out that it's a very transparent ploy for gaining a leadership position using the old tried and true method of buying friends. Denham has already passed out largess to several freshmen from his PAC, and it's not that hard to imagine that they will now feel obligated to him for present and future gifts.

Many of the new Republicans were elected after gaining support from the Tea Parties. Some signed pledges regarding fund-raising as well as the Contract From America pledging fealty to the Constitution and limited government. Going to a fundraising/reelection party at the palace of Mammon may not be the best way to solidify their conservative and Tea Party supporters. Andrew Ian Dodge, Maine coordinator for Tea Party Patriots described the Denham/Rimes fundraiser as "a tone deaf signal that some freshmen did not internalize the tea party's message of changing the political culture in Washington."

Tea Partiers, conservatives and those with common sense are watching for "business as usual" to rear its ugly head. Meanwhile, Democrats, the "party of the people" are looking for major gaffes on the part of the new Republican majority. This event may discourage the former and energize the latter. Let's hope we don't see anything like this again until at least a few real accomplishments have been achieved in Congress.


LL said...

I'm not surprised to see the lavish party -- but they should know better than to do that NOW. Maybe it will all be business as usual? If it is and if there is no substance to what the Republicans produce (walk the walk), the Tea Party and Independents will produce a third party, even though those usually cause havoc to the system.

Maybe the message voters sent fell on deaf ears?

Tennessee Jed said...

That is so incredibly disappointing. Maybe they still think things like this will fly under the radar. At least with AIG and the Dana Point boondoggle 1) it was booked far in advance 2) included customers who earned a ton of money, and 3) was from a profitable portion of that company that had nothing to do with investment in mortgage backed derivatives. There is absolutely no excuse for Republicans this time around to not be totally sensitive.

Writer X said...

This is exactly the type of thing that makes me wonder if anyone is driving the bus. Not good.

T_Rav said...

I'm guessing this guy hasn't been too big on the Tea Party. Probably gives it lip service, but if he's already thinking about his own reelection, he's neither part of it nor overly sympathetic to it. Contrast him with the actual Tea Party freshmen, who in many cases are small businessmen or retired guys who would rather be home than in Washington.

Also, I object to your describing LeAnn Rimes as a "country and western star." I speak for the country and western community when I say we washed our hands of each other some time ago. Just saying.

AndrewPrice said...

Actually, I think the important key to this is not that some jerkoff lobbyist-owned creature from California tried to set up this party, but that the Republican leadership tried to stop their members from going and that almost no one has agreed to go. From what I saw in the stories on this yesterday, only 12 Republicans were involved in this, and none in the leadership.

That's the real story here.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: I agree. The problem here was that it was a freshman Congressman attempting to feather his own nest by putting on a festival of lobbyists and fund-raisers for other newbies to get them beholden to him and off the track of what the election was about. It certainly wasn't about raising campaign money and running for reelection before they've even been sworn in for their first term.

Unknown said...

WriterX: Let's hold our breath and hope this was a mere blip on the radar.

Unknown said...

T_Rav: You're very right on who these people are. I'm just astounded by a freshman already having the arrogance to try to lead other freshmen down the primrose path. On the other hand, I'm not surprised that the only Republican freshman to have a full-blown PAC is from California.

I also agree on Rimes. I was just using the common phrase that most reporters used when describing the headline "artist."

Unknown said...

Andrew: I couldn't agree more on the real significance of the event. Unfortunately you, I and our readers are not the MSM. This is probably a tempest in a teapot, but as I've asked before, "why hand the enemy the ammunition to shoot us with?" If the leftist press grabs hold of this, they won't bother with the little details about naive freshmen being manipulated by a wannabe kingmaker and chided for their foolishness by the real leadership. They'll simply announce that rich Republicans celebrated their triumph with an outrageous gala while poor, unemployed Americans suffer. They'll neglect to mention that only twelve freshmen fools went along with it, and none were in any kind of leadership position.

These are the same "journalists" who would have headlined Jesus's ministry as "Jew tries to undermine the legitimate government. Jesus of Nazareth celebrated Passover with twelve of his inner circle with bread and wine while the poor citizens of Jerusalem starve."

patti said...

the lavishness has GOT TO GO. it's offensive in this day, with so many americans struggling. repubs: get your head out of your asses and get to work. then, if you've had a good day, a victory worth celebrating, how about going to the local bar and having a beer with your peeps who voted your asses in, and can just as easily vote your extravagant asses out.

not a wonk, out.

Unknown said...

Patti: I wouldn't even have been upset over a lavish private dinner, discreetly given at the home of a wealthy Republican stalwart. But to do it this publicly, complete with lobbyists, fund-raisers and election gurus, was just way out of line. In tough times like this, for average Americans who put their faith in the Republican party to restore fiscal sanity and good government, this was a slap in the face.

StanH said...

Washington is a cesspool of corruption, and will take several elections too correct. This doesn’t surprise me.

K-Street needs their wings clipped…severely!

Unknown said...

Stan: Frankly, I was a little surprised. This is the kind of public mistake even a rookie shouldn't make. Even wet-behind-the-ears freshmen should be aware that they are now in a very public light and that the people who voted Republican voted for responsibility and perhaps even austerity. It's like the newly-elected chairman of the Christian Temperance Union announcing he has to leave early in order to get to a cocktail party.

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