Monday, February 11, 2008

There are also unknown unknowns

It's beginnning to look like the end of the US political world as we have known it.

All the way from the Sacramento Bee to the Miami Herald, via the Anchorage News, the McClatchy Group of U.S. regional papers have caught the wind that Malcolm picked up last month. A piece by Rob Hotakainen has Republicans in Congress baling out:
In the last week of January, five members of Congress joined the hottest demographic group on Capitol Hill: Republicans who are heading for the exits.

Reps. Tom Davis of Virginia, Kenny Hulshof of Missouri, Ron Lewis of Kentucky, Dave Weldon of Florida and James Walsh of New York are among 25 Republican members of the House of Representatives who've announced their resignations or retirements. The party is closing in quickly on its record of 27 House retirements, set in 1952.
... most observers say that the mass departures are the result of the loss of Republican control in the 2006 elections, lackluster fundraising and low morale.
The same now seems true (and this is more like news to Malcolm) of the less-exposed heights of the Senate:
where five Republican veterans — John Warner of Virginia, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Larry Craig of Idaho and Wayne Allard of Colorado — are ready to hang it up.
The anticipation is:
It adds up to a tough year for Republicans, who at a minimum will face a big loss of seniority and experience when the 111th Congress convenes next January. Analysts predict that the party will be hard-pressed to keep Democrats from expanding their 232-199 House majority.
This largely repeats what the New York Times was saying ten days ago, so setting Malcolm a-thinking.

After all, were the Democrats to achieve the unthinkable (add another 20 Congressional seats) and also hold the White House, there would be a cast-iron, veto- and filibuster proof mandate. At last progress could be made on a whole tranche of Democrat issue (and Malcolm still maintains that a Clinton Presidency would likely be more radical than an Obama one).

Essentially, if one is a dithering Republican Congressman, debating whether to fight again or take a nice job in a law office, it all comes down to money. The folding stuff is flooding into the coffers of Democrats, while Republicans are finding leaner pickings. Current reports suggest that it may be as a multiple of several degrees:
... the national campaign committee of the House Democrats ended 2007 with $35 million in the bank and $1.3 million in debt. The Republicans’ committee had $5 million in the bank and $2 million in debt. Senate Democrats, who intend to report $29.4 million in the bank with $1.5 million in debt, are expected to be comfortably ahead of Republicans in the holdings of their campaign committees as well.
To British eyes, these amounts are quite blinding. This will be the first $1 billion Presidential Election. It's not going to be cheap trying to stem the Democratic tide in other contests.

Money is, therefore, being burned like Camden Market gone sea-to-shining-sea. At first Malcolm wondered whether the Obama-Hillary stand-off would hamper the Democrats financially in the real thing after Labor Day. He now feels that A Very Public Sociologist (commenting here) was nearer the truth:
The further advantage the Democrats have is continuing exposure thanks to the deadlock. Some commentators think this puts the Republicans at an advantage. I don't think so. The media buzz and political conversations across the US will be about Obama and Clinton and their respective policies. By the time the final nomination is made it will be "John who?"
Where there's interest, the money will follow, in such industrial truck-loads that it will involve eighteen wheels and a dozen roses.

Even when there's no direct interest, except self-interest, perhaps. For Malcolm has a daughter, employed by a major US Corporation in a senior post. Despite being a British passport-holder, and retaining her UK residence for the purposes of voting Labour, she was told she, like the rest of the executives, was expected to contribute the PAC. So much for no taxation without representation.

The joy of US politics is that the pols and their expensive services have to be bought, and re-bought every two, four or six year cycle.

At some point here Malcolm has teetered over the edge of the known universe.

If the Republicans are going to crash-and-burn (a consummation devoutly to be wished by so many) there will be longer-term consequences:
At least 10 of the retiring House members belong to the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership, veterans such as Virginia's Davis, New York's Walsh and Minnesota's Jim Ramstad. Some observers predict that the Republican candidates who are nominated to replace them are likely to be more conservative.
Now we are moving into what Donald Rumsfeld might recognise as unknown known territory.

The Republican Party, especially in the House, over the better part of the last two decades, has earned a deserved reputation as being to the Right. At the GOP grass-roots, the enthusiasm has been for some quite extra-ordinary Right-wing candidates: Paul, Huckabee and Tancredo for starters. The holy name of Ronald Reagan is the new orthodoxy. Today there seems little space for "liberal" Republicanism (as personified by, say, Nelson Rockefeller)

We cis-Atlanteans can easily predict a prognosis for such a disease. Both our major Parties have suffered it. Labour caught the ailment twice: the "Clause IV" outbreak in the earliest 1960s, then the Bennite surge of the early '80s. It is still rampant in the Tory Party, and will be as long as the Chingford Skinhead and his ilk can carry a crush for Blessed Margaret the Incorruptible.

Let us also bear in mind that it is not just intra-Party febrileness here. It can equally debilitate the entire Body Politic. Take, as a classic example, the poisoned chalice of Thatcher's famous EEC Rebate.

The paper value of this to the British Treasury may be some £3B a year. Its value in realpolitik and Euro-clout to any German Chancellor is inestimably more. After all, it only needs a German official to mutter, in the hearing of a Daily Mail correspondent, that something must be done about it, for Britain's European rĂ´le and domestic political debate to be pole-axed for weeks to come.

It is an example to all of us to be careful what we wish for: there may be strange consequences, and unknowns lurking behind any transient triumph. Perhaps, in the longer term, we should not selfishly relish the prospect of the Republicans in disarray. Sphere: Related Content

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