Presidential Snooze Conference

What a useless exercise. There were some worthy questions asked, but since nobody asks followups, it just allows him to filibuster by regurgitating talking points that we’ve heard before. So really, absolutely nothing of value is gained from this theatrical performance. But in a sense, this is part of the process by which the novelty of President Obama begins to diminish, and he becomes just like any other president.

Toomey Blasts Specter For Lacking Principle

Pat Toomey has a column in the Washington Times reacting to Arlen Specter’s decision. A taste:

For Pennsylvanians, who must decide who will represent us in the U.S. Senate next year, the stakes are personal. A central question will be whether Mr. Specter can be trusted on anything.

In recent weeks, Mr. Specter has made numerous statements about how important it is to deny Democrats the 60th seat in the U.S. Senate and how he intended to remain a Republican to prevent one-party dominance in Washington. What Pennsylvanians have to ask themselves now is whether Mr. Specter is, in fact, devoted to any principle other than his own re-election.

Bush, Demography, and The Future of the GOP

The defection of Arlen Specter to the Democrats has reignited the debate over what direction the Republican Party should be taking to return to power — or heck, at this point, to regain enough votes to mount a modicum of opposition to the Democrats’ agenda. The way I see it, there are two basic explanations for the current fortunes of the GOP, each with different ramifications.

It Was Bush, Stupid — Under this mode of analysis, Republicans lost power primarily because President Bush and his policies were seen as a failure by the vast majority of Americans, and the Democrats were able to exploit this in 2006 and 2008, aided last year by a talented candidate in the form of Barack Obama.

If this is really what it boiled down to for most voters, then there really isn’t much that the Republican Party can do at the moment, because their prospects will largely be decided by whether Obama’s policies succeed or fail. If his spending policies lead to higher taxes, inflation, and anemic economic growth and his national security decisions lead to an international crisis or an attack on the homeland, then Republicans will be in a strong position to mount a comeback. If Obama’s policies succeed, then the GOP’s prospects look grim for the foreseeable future. This is the simplest way of thinking about things.

Demographics are Destiny — Other analysts emphasize certain long-term trends such as: a rising minority population and decline in the percentage of voters who are white males, middle-class voters increasingly disenchanted with the GOP, and young voters who are more socially liberal. Critics of the Republican Party will prescribe all sorts of remedies for these challenges, and unsurprisingly, those remedies tend to correlate quite closely with whatever a given critic’s own views happen to be. So, depending on who you talk to, Republicans either need to reestablish themselves as the party of small government or abandon limited government dogma; they either need to remain socially conservative to attract middle-class voters who may not vote Republican on economic issues, or abandon social conservatism so they are seen by younger and urban/suburban voters as being more tolerant –and so on.

As much as I’d like to argue that the Republican Party would thrive as long as they adopted my personal views, the truth is I have no idea how to solve this demographic Rubik’s Cube. The problem is that policies that the party may adopt to win over one group of these voters will hurt their chances with another group. For instance, if Republicans gave up their opposition to gay marriage, it may help their chances among younger voters, while hurting their chances among blacks and Hispanics, who remain more opposed to gay marriage than the population at large. If the GOP embraces comprehensive immigration reform, it may help them win over more Hispanics (though John McCain’s experience would suggest otherwise), but it could hurt them among working class voters who believe that mass illegal immigration cuts into their wages. If they become more open to bigger government, they may attract some moderates, but they could also lose young professionals who disagree with social conservatives but would vote Republican if they believed that the party would actually limit the growth of government. None of this even takes into account the fact that any decision by Republicans to stray from their current basket of positions risks alienating the base of the party, so any shifts would have to gain more new voters than they lose in existing voters.

I tend to be of the opinion that the perceived effectiveness of policies in terms of economic conditions and the state of our national security have more of an impact on votes than demographic patterns, so most of my writing has been within that framework. But if others are right and demography truly is destiny, then I see no way that the Republican Party can survive. At least not without changing so drastically, that it may as well go by a different name.

The Velocity of Hope

President Obama’s first 100 days in office are likely to be judged in different ways by different people, but there’s one measure by which he’s been objectively successful — the speed at which he has advanced his liberal agenda.

The young president has certainly had his share of stumbles along the way, including: the bungled nominations of Judd Gregg and Bill Richardson to be Commerce Secretary; the tax problems of Tim Geithner and Tom Daschle (the latter costing Obama his original point man on health care); and the AIG bonus controversy.

But these events were all short-lived and in the meantime, Obama has kept his mind focused on his larger goal of using government to fundamentally remake the American economy.

Obama came into office at a moment of economic peril with a substantial Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress, a friendly media, and the momentum from a successful presidential campaign. He has proceeded to enact his proposals at such a ferocious pace, that Republicans and conservative activists have had difficulty concentrating their message because of the sheer volume of initiatives that warrant opposing.

On February 17, less than a month after taking the oath of office, Obama was able to sign his $787 billion economic stimulus package. The following week, while Republicans were still pointing out all of the pork-barrel spending included in the economic plan, Obama had moved on to making the case for his $3.55 trillion budget and his vision to transform energy, education, and health care. Earlier this month the House and Senate essentially approved his budget blueprint, and are expected to vote on a revised version today.

Previously stalled legislation that had long been the subject of years contentious debate, such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and S-CHIP, quickly became law without much fanfare once Obama took office.

Each day brings another headline of a new Obama intervention — a $275 billion housing plan, a renewed bank bailout, a decision to sack the chief executive of a private company, and, just this Monday, a pledge to have the federal government target how much of the nation’s gross domestic product is devoted to scientific research and development spending.

While most new presidents are given leeway to implement at least some of their campaign proposals, Obama has been able to get more items passed, sooner, than most. By comparison, George W. Bush didn’t sign his first tax cut until June 2001 and Ronald Reagan wasn’t able to sign his signature tax cut plan until August 1981. In 1993, it took Al Gore’s tie-breaking vote in the Senate, also in August, to pass Bill Clinton’s economic plan and budget.

There should be little doubt that Obama’s actions will catch up with him, eventually. It’s easy to remain popular when you’re handing out goodies if people don’t think they’ll have to pay for them. But his spending is projected to more than double our debt to $17.3 trillion over the next decade, or a staggering 82.4 percent of our economy. The money required to close that gap cannot come out of thin air — not without triggering a massive inflation.

No political prognosticator or economist knows enough to say with any degree of accuracy when that day of reckoning will come. Americans may reach a realization in a matter of months, or it could take several years. The essential question is how much Obama can get done in the intermediate time period.

The good news for conservatives is that Obama hasn’t yet succeeded in fundamentally changing America. His economic measures have set bad precedents, but most are at least theoretically reversible once the current crisis is over should a more conservative government take over at some point in the future.

However, if Obama succeeds in passing health care legislation later this year, America will be destined to resemble Europe, and there will be no turning back, no matter how fierce the public backlash over the inevitable explosion in deficits and implementation of rationing.

For all of his successes, Reagan couldn’t make a dent in the main pillars of the welfare state and even consented to a payroll tax hike to subsidize a failing Social Security system. When Republicans swept into Congress in 1994, during the short period in which they actually tried to rein in government, they were able to pass modest welfare reform, but unable to touch Medicare.

Obama envisions himself as a transformational liberal leader, whose programs, like FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society, live on long after he’s gone. He’s well on his way to achieving his goal, unless Republicans figure out some way to slow him down.

Specter Opposed Party Switching When Jeffords Did It

After Jim Jeffords defected to the Democratic Party in 2001, Specter said:

“How should these issues be handled by the Senate for the future? I intend to propose a rule change which would preclude a future recurrence of a Senator’s change in parties, in midsession, organizing with the opposition, to cause the upheaval which is now resulting.”

At Least Specter Is Honest About One Thing

Speaking to reporters now, Specter just said he spent the last few months looking at public opinion polls and decided his prospects of winning the Republican primary were “bleak” and he didn’t feel comfortable letting the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate render judgment on his 29 year record.

UPDATE: He said he was shown internal polling last Friday, and came to his decision over the weekend.

Club for Growth on Specter

From Club for Growth President Chris Chocola:

“Senator Specter has confirmed what we already knew — he’s a liberal devoted to more spending, more bailouts, and less economic freedom.  Thanks to him, Democrats will now be able to steamroll their big government agenda through the Senate. 

  “This also shows how unprincipled he is.  Just a few weeks ago, he stated quite clearly that he was remaining a Republican because he thought he had ‘a more important role to play there.’  And he said ‘the United States very desperately needs a two-party system.’

  “This cynical play for political survival calls into question whether Pennsylvania taxpayers can believe anything Arlen Specter says.  If his only principle is personal ambition, can he really be trusted with the serious issues that face our country?”

 “The Club for Growth PAC enthusiastically endorsed Pat Toomey for Senate in Pennsylvania when Specter was pretending to be a Republican.  Club members will be even more committed to Toomey’s candidacy now that Specter has revealed his true identity.”

No Word From Toomey

The Toomey campaign, thus far, has remained quiet on Specter’s decision. I have an email into the campaign and will post anything as soon as I have it.

Meanwhile, Dave Weigel finds the Club for Growth stunned by the annoucement, with plans to release a statement later today.