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November 19, 2010

Murkowski II: The Revenge

At Hot Air, This time, it's personal.

Murkowski also goes on to say that she is committed to all the people in Alaska. The only thing she was committed to was saving herself a job as senator. Instead of accepting the outcome of the primary, she had to put her own self-interest above those of the party who voted her out. She was on last night’s PBS Newshour claiming she is the one that best represents Alaska’s interests since she is no longer affiliated to a party.

Wonderful! And it's amazing that she can keep the straight-face as she claims to be an "outsider," despite being given her Senate seat by daddy and having no greater ambition than to serve as a teller in the favor-bank of Washington, DC, and to be serving Alaska's interests, when no one with an IQ north of 60 can fail to recognize this was all a personal and very personalized feud with Palin for her. She wanted to prove she was an Alpha Grrl; that's all. Playground crap.

What great reform did she promise as her central campaign plank? To keep federal pork flowing to Alaska, that's all. And yet this is a victory for Justice or something.

Now that Joe Miller is clearly done, I will restate that I thought he was a great candidate... on paper. He failed, ultimately, because he ventured outside of the Overton Window in his rhetoric and promises.

This is a problem I keep having with unpolished, neophyte, Tea Party-type candidates. Yes, on one hand it's great that they inject into the debate forbidden ideas.

However, there is often a real lack of of strategic thinking going on here, too, cost-benefit analysis, realistic appraisal of current policy possibilities, that usually costs them in some way. When Joe Miller made his pronouncements about pork, he was showing integrity to his ideology, but he wasn't being particularly smart about what can fly in American, or specifically Alaskan, politics.

Note that I supported Joe Miller unequivocally, so this isn't an "I Told You So" situation. I thought he was a great candidate (based, I have to admit, just on resume and general conservative tendencies, that is, I didn't investigate into specifics of his platform).

So I'm not telling any readers "I Told You So" about supporting him -- I supported him wholeheartedly. But he did make mistakes, similar to the ones other Tea Party type candidates made. And the net result is that he lost the election, and cannot put his agenda into tangible effect. At least not now.

Third rails should probably not be seized with aplomb by candidates with an uphill battle for election.

ABC News' Rick Klein reports: Tea Party-backed Senate candidate Joe Miller today added his voice to those who are critical of Democrats' efforts to expand unemployment insurance, and went even further than most candidates in saying that federally backed compensation to the unemployed isn't "constitutionally authorized."

“The unemployment compensation benefits have gotten -- first of all, it's not constitutionally authorized,” Miller, R-Alaska, said on ABC/Washington Post’s “Top Line.” “I think that’s the first thing that's gotta be looked at, so I do not favor their extension.”

Miller also talked up privatization of Social Security, which is admirable and all, but certainly he would be in a better position to advance his ideas in this area if he had... sugar coated it? Been evasive? Been dishonest?

Yes, candor is all well and good but it tends to be punished at the polls.

Why not just take a less-committed position on something that really will have to involve a Great National Debate and say "I'm looking at various reforms?" Not really dishonest, per se, so much as... less forthcoming than he could be.

I don't know his full argument about the unemployment extension not being "constitutionally authorized," but it cost him, I'm sure, to be talking down extending unemployment benefits when so many people are out of work for reasons beyond their control. Whatever someone's ideology, if it's between ideology and feeding their kids, their kids are going to eat.

This is the sort of thing I wish that Tea Party candidates would avoid. They cannot change this situation -- they seem to believe that just by talking about a radical idea, it tends to bring that radical idea closer to pass. I don't think that's accurate -- if an idea seems too radical to too many people, you just might wind up retarding the cause, rather than furthering it, because your suggestion will be repudiated by the ultimate Constitutional arbiter -- the vote.

Or, like Rand Paul and his musings on the unconstitutionality of the Civil Rights Act, you'll be forced to repudiate your own words and claim you never really meant to say that, and in fact would have voted for the Civil Rights Act. How does that advance that particular cause? A cause which I think is completely wrongheaded, but ignore that; even if you do agree with Paul, how does it advance that cause to float the idea and then have to repudiate and recant within days?

These things are outside the Overton Window. They are, currently, not among the policy options available. Why pick fights that can't be won at the cost of fights that can be won? What Rand Paul did was even less necessary -- he was talking about his hypothetical vote on a 50 year old vote. What does it matter, really, which way he would have voted? He doesn't have a time machine. Why stir up a racial hornets' nest on something so hypothetical and moot?

Or, to put it in a slightly different way: These aren't the issues you lead with. You lead on the more popular stuff, or the stuff that isn't popular but still is within the Overton Window of possibilities. You signal, quietly, your willingness to go further than the Overton Window, but you don't go so far as to commit yourself to positions outside that window.



In Alaska, on pork, Miller was outside of that window -- the typical Alaskan, apparently, really likes its pork -- and probably would have helped himself greatly by proposing "reforms" in the earmark process rather than an end to the regime. Or he could have talked up what many Alaskans say -- we want to get the feds' hands off of so much Alaskan land so that we can put it to productive uses, and we're willing to take less pork if we can have that.

Again, if it seems like I'm proposing dishonesty in politics as a way to get elected-- I am. Or, again, the sort of dishonesty by omission. Or the dishonesty of sugar-coating and speaking in terms of hypotheticals.

When Rudy Giuliani said, flatly, "I'm pro-choice," I stopped supporting him actively as a candidate, because I knew he had gone too far outside the Overton Window for the Republican Primary vote. I had no illusions that he'd have the ability to cajole primary voters to his way of thinking. He was done.

This is similar to the thinking that has doomed Obama to a failed presidency. Obama thought that lots of stuff outside the Overton Window could come to pass just due to his pushing for it, assisted, as always, by his general Awesomeness. And certainly any ideological voter, whether on the right or the left, should want a candidate willing to push that Overton Window in the right (or left) direction.

But there is a real cost to rhetoric that puts you too far outside the Window, and that cost is that you wind up moving the Window not at all if the public specifically repudiates your platform.

That, alas, has happened with Joe Miller. He went strong with a lot of positions that had majority (or near majority) support among the most dedicated and ideological members of his party (that is, primary voters), but did not have nearly as much support with the general population.

Too frequently -- as with Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell -- candidates are being rewarded for the ability to win a primary but lose an election. Sharron Angle's mention of "Second Amendment remedies" to overreaching government is the sort of red meat that gins up primary excitement but winds up an albatross around the neck in the general election. Voters really have to be on the lookout for such overtures -- red meat shouldn't come at the expense of a red seat. And if someone is doing just that -- throwing out red meat to win a primary without any eye to the general -- they should be punished for that.

I still think that Joe Miller was worth taking a chance on, and candidates like him are similarly worth rolling the dice on. But -- but -- I hope such candidates with fairly radical ideas about the reordering of government begin to signal such things instead of explicitly stating them. Talk up the stuff that's actually currently achievable, and leave the other stuff, the stuff that will take years of rhetorical persuasion and voter education, for later, once that persuasion and education has actually been undertaken.

I think, as a general impulse, the strongly ideological have a strong bias in favor of what I'd call Gordian Knot solutions. Or "root and branch" solutions -- if the tree is rotten, tear it out root and branch.

This has a lot of ideological and intellectual appeal, too: Why tinker around the edges of a bad policy? Get right to the heart of the matter and change it dramatically, or undo it completely.

The problem with this is that American voters are tinkerers by inclination. They disfavor root-and-branch solutions, at least until they are thoroughly convinced that no amount of trimming can save the tree. Rand Paul's notion that we should cut through the Gordian Knot and cleanly recognize that the Civil Rights Act is an unconstitutional infringement on the right of free association is a disfavored solution -- if the tree is growing poorly, can't we do some trimming to save it, rather than pulling it from the ground and chopping it into firewood?

American voters are also small-c conservative in this fashion -- they'd like to see some small-bore reforms put into place and see how they work before committing to a major, dramatic overhaul -- witness their resistance to Comprehensive Immigration Reform and ObamaCare. This small-c conservative inclination benefits ideological conservatives, too, at least when the left attempts its own Gordian Knot "reforms."

This makes the swing, independent voter much different from ideological conservatives, of course. Most of us are in favor of sweeping changes and reforms -- we have an ideology that tells us that such reforms are not all that risky, but in fact rather likely to be successful.

But the voter not grounded firmly in an ideology doesn't have that reassurance; he sees little but big gambles, risk, big changes without sufficient evidence of likelihood of successful reform. And playing too hard to those in favor of big, sweeping changes comes at the unavoidable expense of those more inclined to tinkering and small-beer stuff.

Any candidate really worth a damn is going to have his eye on these sorts of root-and-branch solutions. I concede that a Senate full of the likes of timid tinkerers like Cornyn and McConnell is barely worth having. (Still worth having, considering the alternative -- Democrats -- but not really something to get excited about). I get that part of the Tea Party creed -- let's have candidates we give a crap about.

But Tea Party candidates, to be successful in statewide (or national) elections, are going to have to learn to couch their less-popular, less established positions in terms of small reforms first, reforms that are sensible enough that people will be willing to try them. And then, having gotten some success with those reforms, taking that momentum further and trying for the medium-sized changes, and then, of course, the big changes.

A lot of people say that Reagan succeeded due to the boldness of his idea and rhetoric. That's sort of true, but his success was due mainly to success itself -- tangible results, palpable improvements in the economy, that then gave him political capital to push other elements of his agenda. To have that sort of success-breeds-success effect, we need people in office, putting reforms into actual practice, and hoping that those reforms result in success. Rhetoric and ideology don't convince non-ideological voters; empirical evidence and tangible improvements do.

But we can't have that unless we're actually at the controls of government.


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posted by Ace at 03:41 PM

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