Can You Stand the Rain?
by Jack Landsman, Thu Sep 30, 2010 at 01:54:30 AM EDT
Given the current trajectory of things, I think it is fairly reasonable to predict Republicans will seize control of the Senate on November 2. The RealClearPolitics poll aggregate projects +8 GOP pickups. In addition, I think Linda McMahon will probably beat lethargic fabulist Dick Blumenthal in Connecticut. Rather than saving Harry Reid, Sharron Angle’s weakness will make her the Jim Webb of the 2010 class, who narrowly skated past the terribly flawed Macaque Man. For the time being anyway, Washington state is one to watch.
Consequently, the radicalism of South Carolina senator Jim DeMint is big news. We should ponder what it means for the 112th Congress that convenes in January. In short, I believe Sen. DeMint is nicely positioned to be the shadow majority leader and this does not bode well for the Democratic administration on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Before peeling back DeMint’s recent public statements in BusinessWeek and POLITICO, we should take a moment to look back at “DeMint Condition,” a profile of Sen. DeMint from this past January.
... DeMint fell into a funk. “There was a period of time after that where he was pretty depressed and eating lunch a lot by himself and didn’t really have any friends in the Capitol,” recalls the former staffer. But soon, DeMint and his people began casting about for like-minded conservatives he could bond with. Traveling around the country communing with the grassroots and hawking his book Saving Freedom, DeMint once more found comfort, acceptance--and opportunity. “It really opened up some doors for him and sort of showed him this was something to pursue and push,” says former DeMint speechwriter Mike Connolly. Realizing he “was never going to be part of the club,” recalls Connolly, the senator had to make a choice. “He looks at himself and looks at the party and asks, ‘What can I do? Am I just here to be the right flank and try to influence a few little amendments here and there, or am I really going to try and change’” the conference? Thus was cemented DeMint’s role: perpetual burr in the butt of his party’s leadership.
It is exceedingly hard not to admire the brazen balls and remarkable political judgment on full display here. It frankly doesn’t matter if you agree with Mr. DeMint’s philosophy or bask in the ascendance of the Tea Party movement (I do not). All of this was fairly predictable. My only wish is that Mr. DeMint had lent some of his fortitude and sense of urgency to progressive avatars like Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. I wonder if Mr. Feingold would have found himself in as much trouble as he presently is had he accumulated more anti-Obama street cred.
Feingold’s lone vote against the Patriot Act makes him morally superior to every one of his Senate colleagues, as far as the current writer is concerned. To the average voter, however, his principled stand in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 probably sounds like some quaint war tale. And while he certainly cast the right votes on the TARP and Dodd-Frank monstrosities, he failed to passionately indict the rotten (bipartisan) system that produced these things. It therefore bears the appearance of political posturing: Casting troublesome but safely inconsequential votes. Jim DeMint’s lonely PB&J lunches in the Senate cafeteria are convincingly portrayed by Michelle Cottle. When Russ does it, it looks a tad bit gimmicky.
DeMint has journeyed a long way from pariah status on the periphery of the Republican caucus.
While Sarah Palin gets most of the attention for helping numerous unlikely candidates win Republican primaries, DeMint, 59, is an even bigger force. The first-term senator and former marketing executive has vaulted from backbencher to conservative kingmaker. He's a recruiter, fundraiser, and agenda-setter, racking up electoral victories for Tea Party underdogs in Senate races across the country.
In the process, he's rapidly building a power base in the Senate that will exert huge influence on the national agenda next year. He's also angering some of his Republican colleagues, including Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush's political strategist. They argue that O'Donnell and other "DeMint disciples," as former Senate Republican leader Trent Lott calls them, are so conservative and inexperienced that they aren't likely to win in the general election. If that happens, they say, he will deny the GOP the 10 seats it needs to take control of the Senate. "We've probably just written off Delaware, and we're shocked and disappointed about it," says Ron Bonjean, a former top Republican Hill aide.
DeMint doesn't care. "I've been told by businesses that if we would stop the tax increases the best thing that could happen for business after that is complete gridlock. At least gridlock is predictable," he tells Bloomberg Businessweek, taking a quick break between TV appearances. His goal, he says, is to stop programs that violate his anti-Big Government ideology. "What happens in the Senate is the Republicans sink to the lowest common denominator," he says. "People want an alternative to some kind of watered-down Republican philosophy."
A number of political experts have warned that a Republican takeover of either one or both houses of Congress could redound positively for President Obama. Their suggestion obviously draws upon the 1995-6 parallel. To hear conservatives recount the story, it goes something like this: After reading the handwriting on the wall (or after having Dick Morris park him in front of the wall), the neutered Democratic president Bill Clinton, a soulless practitioner of politics, signed all manner of legislation passed by Newt Gingrich’s Congress and wisely claimed credit for himself to the benefit of his 1996 re-election bid.
But of course President Clinton didn’t have a jobless recovery economic depression, 17% real unemployment, a failed war in a primitive and faraway place, and such, to answer for. Moreover, Barack Obama prevailed where Bill Clinton miserably failed: He signed what passes for universal health care these days. Unfortunately the traditional rubric doesn’t apply to this president. Rather than being grateful for the legislative bounty the Democrats have achieved for them, widespread voter dissatisfaction persists. Rest assured the incoming horde of reactionaries won’t easily forget House speaker Nancy Pelosi gallantly marching through the crowd of Tea Party people with that humongous Medicare gavel.
When Jim DeMint made his famous pronouncement of ObamaCare as Barack Obama’s “Waterloo,” he unwittingly betrayed the true sentiment of the conservative movement; an entirely different beast than Mitch McConnell’s Beltway Republicanism. Similarly, DeMint’s professed preference for gridlock is a certain harbinger of what awaits us in 2011.
This may not be entirely bad. For progressives fully awakened to the hopelessness of this administration, this may be preferable at this point. In order for the Catfood business—convened by the president and chaired by former senator Al Simpson and Clinton White House alum Erskine Bowles—to succeed, they have to attract a great deal of Republican votes. In addition to the recent redecoration, the National Park Service would have to add another story to house Barack Obama’s ego should his Catfood Commission succeed in reducing the deficit by, among other things, “reforming” Social Security. As far as he’s concerned, it certainly wouldn’t hurt what may be an otherwise uphill re-election effort.
Republicans will have none of it. To be sure, the leadership won’t appear on Fox News Sunday and candidly admit the conniving rationale behind their opposition. Conservative politicians, pundits, and operatives have already done their darnedest to fashion themselves as protectors of Medicare. An imagination as foggy and paranoiac as mine shouldn’t be necessary to envisage a similar Road to Damascus conversion vis-à-vis Social Security—if only for nakedly cynical purposes.
POLITICO has more:
Republican leaders convened a special meeting last week to discuss whether to revoke Murkowksi’s position as ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. GOP leaders entered the meeting, believing the caucus would vote to remove her from her position. But a number of Republicans, like Hutchison, said it made little sense to do so, given that she was likely to lose her reelection bid anyway and that there was sparse committee action in the docket.
DeMint and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter made a case for Murkowski to lose her spot on the committee, but most of their colleagues disagreed. Some later said Murkowski probably gained support because it was DeMint who was leading the charge against her.
Emerging from the meeting, DeMint repeatedly declined to tell reporters about what transpired at the meeting other than to say that the party was “united” behind Miller. A day later, he sent out the sharply worded fundraising letter, attacking his colleagues for aiding Murkowski’s bid.
DeMint said in the interview he was “distressed” by the conference’s position, and he said Miller “obviously was shaken” by the decision to keep Murkowski on the panel’s leadership, which Murkowski has since touted in her campaign.
“I know from experience that trying to work within the system for 12 years has not yielded results —and our country is worse off [than] where it was when I got here,” DeMint said Tuesday. “The party is not going to mind what I do as long as I’m not effective.”
Throughout the article POLITICO quotes tsk-tsking establishmentarians: Orrin Hatch of Utah; Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, who decried DeMint’s breach of the sanctity of closed conference deliberation; Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the loser who was pounded into the Texas dirt by Gov. Rick Perry in the gubernatorial primary last spring; South Dakota’s Marlboro Man, John Thune, who has luckily satisfied a base level of experience (six years or thereabout in the Senate) in time to mount a presidential run in a fortuitous year; and some person named Kit Bond of Missouri who won’t be around for the next Congress.
Allied with Jim DeMint was Louisiana’s David Vitter, who is emblematic of an even more strategic conservative base. This solid conservative—whose wife mocked Hillary Rodham Clinton for tolerating Bubba’s embarrassing affinity for trashy, indiscreet women—admitted to knocking down prostitutes and nevertheless is cruising to re-election as we speak. He and DeMint are the future of the Republican Party.
For them the bloodbath of November is only a beginning. Their ultimate aim is to install Sarah Palin—or something like her—in the White House. Our task as progressives is to recruit a real Democrat, send this president back to Hyde Park, and suit up for the epic showdown that awaits us in 2012.