Sunday, April 11, 2010

Re: Busplunge article "The End of the Missouri Republican Party" (Springburg)

Springburg's note: This article was put on Busplunge's blog a few hours ago. I made a long comment below. I post it here because his system would not accept the comment length.

Bus Driver's note: Much as these Ozarkians are sharing opinions while sitting on a bench in front of the Protem general store in the mid 1930s, Springburg and I have shared our opinions- except we do it electronically via computers. A flavor of his thinking and conversational style is reflected in this post from late 2009.

Springburg posted his comment on Craigslist because it wouldn't fit the space provided for comments on the bus. Craigslist is a great medium and I use it a lot but I don't know if there is much of or any cross-over between CL readers and bus riders. So, I post his entire comment here. The original post which occasioned his comment,The End Of The Missouri Republican Party, was originially published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on March 9, 2009, as an op-ed piece by Tom Schweich. The title is Schweich's.

Schweich was saying exactly what all of us already knew at the time he said it a year ago, but weren't really in a position to say: that Roy Blunt is 180 degrees opposite of what we should be running for the US Senate in 2010.

The reasons are all obvious and abundantly clear: The electorate hungers for candidates that are genuine, preferably not attorneys, not lobbyists, and not already politicians. Roy Blunt is a super-connected insider, he represents the lobbyists in DC and not us, and he seems to be at the top of an increasingly authoritarian Missouri Republican Party. But saying this about Roy Blunt does not mean that my view of him is entirely bad. As a Republican, I recognize that Roy Blunt does talk and generally vote as a conservative, and a hardlined one at that. And for all of his faults, Roy Blunt did exactly what we, the voters, sent him to DC to do, and people on the periphery of the party tend to forget that.

When Gene Taylor ran against John Ashcroft for congress in 1972 (Roy Blunt worked in the Ashcroft campaign, and very closely with Ashcroft) it was seen retrospectively by pundits as a west vs. east or Joplin vs Springfield contest. People who were here remember that Ashcroft was a superior ivy-league educated evangelical, and was a little bit in-your-face about it. 1972 was Nixon's year, congress was run by Democrats, and people in this district wanted somebody with personal skills who could garner influence with the administration and the national party to benefit southwest Missouri. Gene Taylor was the local Ford dealer and fit that bill, and when he went to DC, he did exactly that. He didn't go on any ideological crusade, but he connected the political dots between the 7th district and DC.

Through the Reagan revolution, I think Gene Taylor realized that he was the wrong guy to represent the area in congress, and he retired. By the time Gene Taylor retired in 1988, this area had really bought into the idea that Reagan represented a permanent shift in the direction of the country, and that the Democrats in DC were a grand impediment to that effort, but that the Democrats were entrenched and not going anywhere. There were plenty of other republicans in office in Missouri, so the 7th district congressman was no longer the only one. So voters in this district wanted to make a statement. The idea of getting somebody who was a total ideologue, and throwing them in the middle of the DC Democrat mess, was very appealing at that time, even to moderate Republicans. Mel Hancock was exactly what the 7th district voters, and the Republican Party, wanted and needed at that time. Mel went to DC and voted against everything, even voted against adjourning, and the voters loved it.

Oddly, though, the Democrat congress actually got thrown out by the rest of the country for Mel's self-imposed term limited last term, and the Republicans were in charge of congress. The workerbees in the party at that time were beginning to lament about how the district was one of the most solidly safe Republican districts in the country, but our congressman was always a minor player in the house. The local Republican Party, and to perhaps a lesser extent the voters in the district as well, by that time wanted something more than a statement, they wanted a congressman who was going to be not necessarily a leader, but part of the leadership who actually had an effect on things. And they wanted somebody who could use the position of 7th district incumbent congressman to solidify the Republican Party's majority nationally and fund obtaining a majority in the state legislature, all while strengthening the state party apparatus from top to bottom, and move the center of influence of the upper ranks of the Missouri party from St. Louis into rural Missouri. For all of Roy Blunt's faults (which may be abundantly clear now), he did EXACTLY what the Republican Party wanted him to do when they elected him in 1996.

With his connections to Ashcroft and others, Roy Blunt shot to near the top of the house leadership relatively quickly. He used his position to raise gobs and gobs of money for Republican candidates all over this state and in other states, solidifying Republican control of a large swath of state government and extending the influence and status of Missouri Republicans throughout the country.

Republicans in Missouri have lost sight of just what an achievement was made in the past fifteen years by the Missouri Republican Party and have forgotten the key and pivotal role that Roy Blunt played in it. However, there has been a downside, particularly for Roy Blunt. In the zeal for fundraising and party building, Roy Blunt got sucked into (whether consciously or innocently I won't argue) the whole Abrahmof circle and scandal, learned methods in the process that may now be costing him the support of his base, he created or perhaps allowed the defacto formation of a party apparatus that could be accurately characterized as a machine running the legislature, and became part of a leadership team that ended up departing from the populist conservative principles that got them there in the first place and literally became what people back home were originally wanting him to fight against. He got sucked into the business of Washington, got really chummy with lobbyists, dumped his wife and married a hottie lobbyist, his kids are lobbyists, his mentor (John Ashcroft) is a very high dollar lobbyist, and he appears (by my reading of his behaviour in the district) to consider himself a superior form of life in comparison to the people who sent him there.

When the British government sent soldiers to the far corners of their empire, most would segregate themselves from the local population because they had all seen cases where some British soldiers who had attempted assimilation with a local culture through communication and understanding would sometimes adopt the customs, dress, and psychology of the indigenous population and begin acting against the interests of the British empire. These soldiers were said to have 'gone native'. We sent Roy Blunt to Washington, and he went native.

National party leaders saw the handwriting on the wall and sidelined Roy Blunt from house leadership when the Abrahmof scandal bubbled to the surface and when other shit threatened to hit the fan. Roy Blunt appears to now have no more visible influence than any other connected congressman, though he is probably much better connected than most. His son just more or less dropped out of statewide politics. It would appear that he is not likely to advance in house leadership in the future. The only way Roy Blunt has to maintain his leadership of the Missouri party and maintain his influence outside the state is to continue to raise gobs of cash for everybody, which he can't do for long as a common congressman since he is of relatively little appeal to the lobbyist community in his current position. The only way to maintain his influence is to bypass the national party and the party leadership in the house by either getting appointed to a cabinet post (which isn't going to happen with a liberal democrat as president) or get elected to the US Senate.

The Missouri Republican Party always was to some extent a very 'top-down' organization, but has become almost authoritarian with Roy Blunt at the apparent top. It seems obvious that Roy Blunt is running for the US Senate not because he is the best candidate the party could offer, not because of any ideological objectives, but rather because it makes sense for Roy Blunt.

I don't mean any particular disrespect for Roy Blunt. I have been a supporter of Roy Blunt in other races in the past. I believe he is a capable, talented and educated man and believe him to be a champion of conservative causes, although I am not as much of a right winger as he has a reputation for being. But I think Roy Blunt has lost contact with and empathy for the people in his district. I think people are questioning his motives for running. The electorate is particularly sensitive to this aspect of a candidates character this year. I don't think Roy Blunt is a particularly good choice for the party to make for the US Senate this year. He is obviously being forced down the throats of the party as the only real choice that is allowed, and frankly, people just don't like being told how they are supposed to vote.

Being basically conservative (though not irrationally so), I should be supportive of the aims and objectives of this conservative Republican machine. But I am personally generally opposed to machine politics where you are either on the inside or on the outside of the group. I am just not a 'joiner' or an insider; which places me squarely on the outside and perpetually at odds with such a machine, even if it purports to be working in my best interests. Quite clearly, a vote for Roy Blunt is a vote for perpetuation and expansion the Missouri Republican Party machine, such that it may be. A vote for Roy Blunt would also appear to be a vote for the interests of lobbyists in DC, and possibly even a vote for the monetary interests of lobbyists directly related to Roy Blunt.

I can't help but imagine that this senate vacancy was in some way foreseeable by party leaders, that the party could have taken steps to develop somebody somewhere, or potentially develop a selection, to have available to run as credible candidates. I can't help but conclude that the choice by the leaders of the party of Roy Blunt for US Senate demonstrates that the party is more in tune with the needs of certain personalities and of interests which may be at opposition with the people in the state or people in the front lines of the party.

As an aside to my comments about Roy Blunt, I must point out that the choice on the other side has similar issues. Robin Carnahan is the latest of a long political line that started with a congressman who was voted out of office in a democratic primary because he was too liberal even for democrats. Despite her posturing and positioning to the contrary, I fully expect her to be the 'rubber stamp' for the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership that the Blunt campaign claims. With her family's decades long involvement in politics, and with the Democrats in charge, I fully expect her to be as fully immersed in lobbyist money as anybody. I met her a zillion years ago when she was college age, so I have no personal judgement to make, but inside Democrats I know hint that she possesses many off-putting personality traits as well. And she has yet to really give us any good reason to vote FOR HER other than she is not Roy Blunt.

(As a further aside, I think the Democrats should have nominated Ike Skelton to the US Senate if they wanted that seat and wanted to do a service to the voters in the state. But that would mean that Skelton would have had to give up some important committee assignments and an important chairmanship that it took him three decades to get, so it would not have worked for Ike Skelton.)

I am afraid that after all of the millions (and millions and millions) that will be spent on this campaign, after all of the attack ads by third parties, after all of the position papers, after all of the rural-America posturing, after all of the Jackson Day dinners and county fairs, after all of the debates, after all of the baby kissing, all of the TARP-bashing, bailout bashing, health-care bashing, after all of the nationwide media head-spinning that all of us voters are going to have to endure, it is going to boil down to voters being presented with two choices, having to decide whether they think the direction that Obamelosireid is taking the country is radical enough or otherwise disagreeable enough that they are willing to hold their nose and vote for Roy Blunt.

But, I digress . . . .

As a comment to the Schweich article, I must point out that even though I pretty much agree with everything that Tom Schweich says in this article, one must consider the source. At the time this article was written, Tom Schweich was wanting to run for the US Senate as well. He is another Ivy League educated part of the supposed intelligencia who has spent a large part of his professional life working in appointed positions in government. (What could he possibly know about what it means to be me or to be anybody else I know?) I have met the guy only once, and have seen a few YouTubes of him, but I got the distinct impression that this guy is dismissive of people that he thinks of as inferior to his exalted self. I don't know, but I suspect that he has developed 'a case of the ass' against somebody or something in DC, and that may be the real reason he wants to be a senator, and not some supposed love for the common people of the Midwest. So I question his motives for wanting to be a senator.

Although as a moderate Republican, I would have to conclude that my views on the issues could be closer to Tom Schweich's than Roy Blunt's (although Tom Schweich swears up and down that he is as much of a hard line right wing whacko as anybody in Southwest Missouri), despite that, and despite all of the trash I just wrote about Roy Blunt, I am not convinced that Roy Blunt wouldn't be a better US Senator than Tom Schweich. I have no doubt that Tom Schweich has a good understanding of SOME issues that are voted on by senators, I suspect that Roy Blunt (if he can remember his deep dark past growing up in rural Missouri) probably has a better understanding of others. So even though I probably agree with almost every fact and every opinion in almost every phrase of this article, I can't help but view this article as nothing more than a great big super-sized bag of sour grapes.

I don't know whether the title to the article "the end of the Missouri Republican Party" is from Tom Schweich or from Busplunge, but I would like to add this comment: If Roy Blunt looses, especially in this Republican year, it would probably be the end of his visible political career (or at least that is the judgement of most people I know on the sidelines). But if he is careful, he might be able to conserve enough cash that he and his people will still be pulling the strings for the Missouri party. A lot of his past fundraising proceeds have gone down rat-holes that nobody can follow, and a lot of it is probably still out there (burried in coffee cans in the woods for all I know).

The party machine has been recruiting candidates around the state that are not particularly good legislators. Maybe they are promoted on their willingness to do what they are told or be part of the group, or whatever. The only 'farm team' that the party seems to have for statewide positions is the legislature. And people on both sides of the spectrum have been talking about the quality of people that we are being offered as legislators or state senators is not what it used to be. I don't know of any potential Emory Meltons, David Doctorians, Paul Bradshaws, or even Jim Mathewsons or Bob Griffins in the Missouri legislature today (with the possible exception of Gary Nodler, and maybe Sarah Lampe on the other side). Besides the current budget shortfall, there are some huge and potentially very technical and some potentially very philosophical and theoretical issues comming down the pike that the Missouri legislature has so far failed to deal with, and we really need better legislators than what we have been getting in recent years.

A lot of people on the front lines of the party have wondered whether the machine system is at least partly responsible for the decline in the quality of people ending up in the legislature, and wonder if the demise of Roy Blunt might open things up a bit to allow a better quality of candidate to arise from the grass roots. (A more plausible explanation for the drop in quality of the legislature and the emergence of the influence of municipalities and counties in the legislative process is, of course, term limits. But that is a totally different rant.)

There is a theory out there that if Roy Blunt loses the US Senate race, it could lead to some sort of improvement in the Missouri legislature. I disagree. First of all, the party apparatus and influence will still be there, and second, I think term limits is the bigger issue.

Now that I have insulted and pretty much pissed off every elected office in the state, I suspect that I should probably refrain from any further comment on the subject.

1 comment:

Harry Styron said...

If you want to annoy with a blog post, you have to do it in the first sentence.