On Conservative Strawmen

strawman-motivationalI’ve never really understood Michael Tomansky’s role at the Daily Beast other than to write screeds about how evil Republicans and conservatives are.

I never had much love for pundits whose sole duty in life is to write column after column about how evil the other side is.  Ann Coulter and Michele Malkin do that quite annoyingly on the starboard side and I find it not only bothersome but rather boring.  These writers don’t add any light, but do throw more flames on the fire to pump up their side of the aisle and assure themselves how good they are and how evil and pathetic the other side is.

Tomansky’s latest screed is going after conservative “reformers”; writers that have from time to time advocated for reform from within American conservatism.  He thinks they aren’t doing a good enough job. Here’s his take on a quote from one reformer, Avik Roy:

Here’s what Roy says he wants: to “orient the GOP agenda around opportunity for those who least have it, to offer these individuals a superior alternative to failed statist policies.” Please. You get a lot of this from Republicans. Paul Ryan says things like this all the time. Rick Santorum did. Even Mitt Romney did, though to a lesser extent. But it’s all nonsense because they have invented a straw-man version of liberalism in their heads that isn’t anything like the liberalism that actually exists.

So, what should the reformers like Roy, or Ross Douthat, or David Brooks or Reihan Salam be talking about?  Well, not policies, but the fact that the GOP is a racist, sexist, homophonic rump or a party:

The big problem with today’s Republican Party isn’t its policies. Certainly, those policies are extreme and would be deeply injurious to middle-class and poorer Americans should they be enacted. But Bob Dole wasn’t thinking, I don’t believe, just of policies. He was talking about the whole package—the intolerance, the proud stupidity, the paranoia, the resentments, the rage. These are intertwined with policy of course—indeed they often drive policy. But they are the party’s real problem. And where these “reformers” fail is that they never, ever, ever (that I have seen) criticize it with any punch at all.

Hey, Avik! Would you like to know why 90 percent of black people aren’t listening to your message? Because you don’t want them to vote! Not you personally (at least I assume), but your party. I know that you think black people are victims of false consciousness (how Marxist of you!), but do you also think they are stupid? If you and your wonderful Arthur Brooks want to develop a program to attract black voters, you might start by trying to change your party’s position on the question of attempting to pervert the law to deny them their franchise.

I think frankly that Tomansky is dealing with a bit of a strawman here.  Strawmen aren’t totally fiction, they are built on some fact, but this strawmen, like all strawmen is taken to an extreme and is based more on the person’s perception more than it is on the reality of the situation.

First  off, the GOP does have an image problem.  It isn’t attractive to persons of color or gays.  This isn’t news.  I think some of the small steps that are happening such as the bipartisan immigration reform bill will help in the image department a bit.  There are miles to go before sleep and it hasn’t dawned on everybody, but the ball is rolling ever so slowly.

Second, I have to wonder if Tomansky has ever read some of these writers.  I have and for the most part they have lobbed criticisms against the current GOP.  Some have come down against the “crazies.”  What Tomansky fails to notice is that these reformers are conservatives, in essense, the loyal opposition.  They don’t like where the GOP is at the moment, but they are within the party working for change, not outside throwing stones.  That might look like cowardice to someone like Tomansky because they aren’t joining him in denouncing conservatism in general.

Then there is the accusations of taking the vote away from African Americans as the source of why they aren’t voting for the GOP.  Two answers.  One, the GOP has had low support among African Americans for a while so something like Voter ID is far from the only reason.  Two, Andrew Kohut, hardly a conservative, noted that African Americans are voting more in each election cycles not less and that’s with the passage of voter id laws.

Finally, it’s interesting that Tomansky seems to only like those writers he thinks have contempt for the GOP, which reveals his own views and which gets me back to why I don’t really like Tomansky.  Maybe I’m weird for wanting to read writers that have something helpful to say, but if you can’t say something nice, well, I’m just going to ignore you.

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51 thoughts on “On Conservative Strawmen

  1. “Then there is the accusations of taking the vote away from African Americans as the source of why they aren’t voting for the GOP. Two answers. One, the GOP has had low support among African Americans for a while so something like Voter ID is far from the only reason. Two, Andrew Kohut, hardly a conservative, noted that African Americans are voting more in each election cycles not less and that’s with the passage of voter id laws.”

    This is pretty weak. While Voter IDs might not be the historical reason why African-Americans and other people of color skew so heavily away from the GOP, they aren’t doing themselves any favors with those populations. As it stands, the Dems win those groups with huge numbers. Rather than try to close that gap by soliciting their support, the GOP has attempted to do so by reducing their numbers. The fact that they’ve failed in this endeavor doesn’t mean it is any less insidious or demonstrates any less animus, which is one of the chief criticisms of the party from those corners.

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    • “Hey, Avik! Would you like to know why 90 percent of black people aren’t listening to your message? Because you don’t want them to vote! ”

      Dennis: “I think frankly that Tomansky is dealing with a bit of a strawman here. Strawmen aren’t totally fiction, they are built on some fact, but this strawmen, like all strawmen is taken to an extreme and is based more on the person’s perception more than it is on the reality of the situation.”

      Do you deny that the GOP is working hard to keep blacks from voting?
      Is what he said not true?

      Dennis: “First off, the GOP does have an image problem. It isn’t attractive to persons of color or gays. This isn’t news. ”

      Their vote percentage among hispanics and people of asian ancestry is dropping fast. Considering that those two categories are each composed of an awesome variety of backgrounds, that’s impressive. Not in a good way.

      “I think some of the small steps that are happening such as the bipartisan immigration reform bill will help in the image department a bit. There are miles to go before sleep and it hasn’t dawned on everybody, but the ball is rolling ever so slowly.”

      We’ve just watched the ball roll backwards, quite deliberately, and quite deliberately among the base. The GOP’s recent actions aren’t the result of quiet backroom dealings, but of the base speaking very loudly and very clearly. And the immigration bill is at this point a very fuzzy maybe.

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  2. Most Coulter columns have one really interesting point, often from the legal side of things. I can’t say the same thing about Malkin.

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  3. Fun post Dennis,

    Some criticisms:

    1. Saying Tomasky and Ann Coulter are analagous is false equivalency at its worst. You can criticize Tomasky for being too liberal or something, but he is no Coulter.

    2. “That might look like cowardice to someone like Tomansky because they aren’t joining him in denouncing conservatism in general.”

    But Tomasky wants these moderate smart people to criticize racism and homophobia in the Republican party and amongst conservative media and intellctual outlets, not conservativism itself.

    3. “So, what should the reformers like Roy, or Ross Douthat, or David Brooks or Reihan Salam be talking about? Well, not policies, but the fact that the GOP is a racist, sexist, homophonic rump or a party”

    I’m sure Tomasky thinks they should talk about policies and call out the racists.

    Certainly, they could and need to do a lot more of the latter. Conservative and centrist Dems, too. But the Republican part has a worse racism, sexism, and homophobia problem. Again, no false equivalencies.

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    • The reason I talk about Coulter is not to bring up a false equivalence, but to say that this is a problem not just among liberals. I don’t want to point a finger without a finger or two pointing back at me. If I share something like the above it’s considered false equivalence, but if I just focused on liberals, I have a funny feeling that I would be accused of hypocrisy.

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      • I’m not familiar with Tomansky; the only Daily Beast columnist I’ve ever read with any consistency is Christopher Buckley. To choose his best conservative counterpart, I’d need to know more. Is he:

        Hydrophobic? Malkin
        Homicidal? Coulter
        Stupid? Goldberg
        Stupider? Hannity
        Stupidest? Schiffrin
        Delusional? Beck
        Vile? McCarthy
        Viler: Drudge
        Vilest: Limbaugh

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        • Adding on to Mike – there is a large number of Coulter equivalents on the right, and that’s counting only those with an audience and a podium. Try finding that on the left. And considering that your first attempt was weak, try harder.

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        • This fine list entertainers provide distractions from actual GOP governing failures with a variety of strawman arguments and faux-troversy (fake controversy), while skillfully avoid actually ever holding any individual Republican responsible for any of those governing failures.

          They are an essential tool in the took-kit for transferring wealth to the top.

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  4. Avik Roy has been lying for years about the implications of ACA. We really should expect nothing better from him, I suppose. All this harum-scarum about ACA is tiresome and doesn’t bear repeating. The GOP has been banging its soup spoon on the bottom of their empty pot on this subject forever.

    The facts are not on Avik Roy’s side.

    Every time I hear the words “Failed Statist Policies” from a Republican, I think about all the fine Libertarians hereabouts and what I’ve learned from them. Quite a bit, really I have learned. Whatever the Republicans are not, they have proven themselves the most enthusiastic Statists in American politics today. Of course, since the GOP can’t get someone elected President, they’re more inclined to use terms like FSP these days. But when they’re in power, “you’re with us or you’re against us.”

    Poor Ross Douhat, that well-meaning oaf. He’s tryin’ so hard to sound like a Common Man. And he fails so miserably. Maybe he needs some pointers from Ted Cruz, another Harvard grad child of privilege who’s tryin’ to sound like a common man. Mercifully, Douhat’s manners are better than Ted Cruz’ but lordamighty, they both look like Eddie Albert on that tractor, in Green Acres, all dressed up in his three piece suit.

    The GOP’s problems are substantive. They are not Straw Men. Here’s where you’ve gone off the track, Dennis: people have reached conclusions about the GOP based on what it’s said and done. Are those conclusions fair? The question is irrelevant. The GOP has done nothing of substance to make anyone want to change their minds. Of course it’s about perception. Perceptions can be changed but it takes time. The Spanish say, cria fama, y puedes dormir == create a reputation and you can go to sleep. It took a great long time for things to get this bad and it will take at least that long to get any better.

    Loyal opposition? If only! The GOP has done everything in its power to undermine Obama and the Democrats. Loyal? As in using the country’s credit rating as a lever, playing with economic catastrophe as a political toy? Find some other adjective. Loyal won’t do. The GOP has absolutely no loyalty to anyone or anything but themselves.

    You want Helpful? Let’s just start with this helpful hint from Neil Gaiman. I’m just paraphrasing here. But when someone gives your stuff a vague critique, something’s wrong here, this just isn’t working — take them seriously. But if someone gives your stuff a specific critique, change this to that, I really don’t like this — them you can ignore.

    Stop making excuses for why people don’t like the GOP. We have our reasons, some of which are excellent. As Janet Jackson observed all those years ago “What have you done for me lately?” The GOP hasn’t done anything which might invite anyone to change their minds about them. I’m sure there are plenty of nice people in the GOP, folks who might want to extend a friendly hand to moderates and progressives, listen to our ideas, we might listen to yours, too, were you calling our critiques anything but Straw Men.

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    • The GOP’s continued resistance to universal healthcare is simply the most concrete evidence that they can not govern. I think the evidence is pretty clear that healthcare is one area where socialism really does work and the market does not. Nearly every other country in the developed world has some system of universal, government provided heatlhcare in place be it single-payer, NHS, or the Bismarckian system. Even Switzerland has it.

      The Republicans will have none of this. They lie about death panels and Canadians and Europeans flocking to America to receive healthcare despite all evidence to the contrary. To them its the market or nothing unless you are old enough to be on Medicare or a veteran. You can’t govern if you do not think the government could do anything right or only exists so you can enrich yourself at the expense of others.

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      • For all of his snark about the Democratic Party and their urge to Fix Things, PJ O’Rourke once said a very wise thing: One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it’s remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver’s license.

        The GOP can only go so far on blaming Obama and the Democrats. If only we could harness the watts generated by the GOP’s rants, recycling their farts of outrage into some methane-powered power plant, America’s energy problems would be solved at once.

        There is a tremendously sound approach to America’s health care cost nightmare, an entirely conservative approach, too. What do Conservatives want? Smaller government, a worthy goal. On the basis of that thought, I have a solution, which I’ve trotted past several conservatives of my acquaintance, to considerable approval.

        Though I am a Liberal, I do not want a fully socialised health care system for the USA. I want a reform of the billing and payment system. I want a common set of electronic transactions: think about all the different places you can use your VISA or Amex card. First step, I want health care providers to operate under just such a common clearing system. I’d pass a law which says processing health care claim is no different than clearing a check through the Federal Reserve system. If a patient is covered, the claim is paid upon receipt. Immediately. If the claim is rejected, a rejection notice is sent: immediately, with effective, human readable documentation. Health insurers would be required to have funds on hand to pay such claims: the health insurance system in the USA is nothing but a cabal of unregulated banks.

        That’s the first half of the proposition. The government would pay all Medicare and Medicaid claims through that system, which would bring other insurers in by dint of a common standard. Physicians would love it. They’re spending preposterous sums in overhead expenses, just trying to get paid.

        This is not Single Payer. It is Common Gateway. Get that much done, then we can get a better picture of how to reform the rest of the system. I’d be guided by physicians in any subsequent reforms, I’m sure there will be much disagreement on how such reforms might be implemented, but I am sick to death of the GOP lying about ACA. ACA has problems but most of those problems are not new: in the existential world of reform, it’s as Rumsfeld once said “unknown unknowns”: we’re uncovering problems we never knew we had.

        Unknown unknowns. To us, maybe. But to the health care community, from the top-flight neurosurgeons to the lowliest receptionist at your local physician’s office — they know all about these problems. Why the GOP refuses to be guided by them, preferring the advice of Big Healthco and Skeevy Health Insurance Racketeers is beyond me.

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          • Well, yes. But that’s where Conservatives would be most useful: they have a deeper hatred for intrusive government than anyone else. But promulgating the adoption of a common standard, demonstrably superior to the current insecure, expensive and horribly-regulated status quo, would be a godsend to their cause.

            For one, it’s market oriented. All we have to do is say “Bureaucracy be damned: if you hate bureaucracy, you’ll attack it in the civilian world, too. Think VISA card simple. Every physician in the nation will bless your name if you can shorten their receivables and every employer will thank you for simplifying the running of their businesses.”

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        • “What do Conservatives want? Smaller government, a worthy goal. On the basis of that thought, I have a solution, which I’ve trotted past several conservatives of my acquaintance, to considerable approval.”

          Really, they want a better tailored government. When it comes to helping those they hate, they want it smaller; when it comes to helping those they like (like themselves, and the elites) they want it bigger. When it comes to hurting those they hate, they want it bigger; when it comes to hurting those they like (like themselves, and the elites) they want it smaller.

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  5. Just a thought: it might make more sense to ask why (fill in group that overwhelmingly votes Dem here) votes for Dems rather than why they don’t vote for Republicans. Get more detail on that, what their concerns are, what their priorities are, then figure out ways to address them that don’t smack of Me-Too-ism.

    (For the record Dennis, I don’t vote at all for any person or party, so feel free to take that with a grain of salt)

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      • My suspicion is that members of “group that overwhelmingly votes Dem” consider Reps not merely indifferent but actively hostile, and vote Dem to deny Reps any position of power. I can’t picture why anyone would stand in line for six hours to vote except as an FU to the people who created the situation where you had to stand in line for six hours; not voting or voting a third party is hardly an FU at all.

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      • More than likely a few left-populist views to an extent on economics, which would come with the territory among most minority groups of being disproportionately affected by downturns & worse off on average to begin with.

        Not to say they’re correct to vote Dems on that (both parties are firmly in the pocket anyway), only that that seems to be the reason from what I hear.

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  6. Interesting article Dennis, but we’re long past the time when conservatives are worth listening to. Obama has been a colossal disappointment on many levels, but when you consider his opponents, he stands like a titan. It shouldn’t be hard denounce bigotry or racism, but policies count too. GOP policies promote those things. Further, they have abandoned science in most meaningful ways. When climate change and evolution are criticized as ‘liberal lies’, I’m not interested in arguing. These are ignorant, profoundly stupid people. To have every single 2012 candidate save 1 profess doubt about a basic scientific principle is insulting beyond belief.

    No sir. I am not willing to meet halfway with someone who would deny me my basic humanity. They are worthy of nothing but our contempt and ridicule.

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    • Ha ha. Nobody is worse than a ‘reformed’ Republic. My 1st vote was for Gerald Ford, then St. Ronnie. Eventually the scales slipped from my eyes and I’ve never looked back.

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      • WD, I don’t know how you can live with the guilt. I mean, if Republicans are as bad as you say, every last one of them, then you’re like one of those Nazi war criminals who changed his name and moved to Argentina. The Republican Party stands for the same principles it did back then. I wonder, were you ignorant, or cruel, or are you overstating things now?

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        • “…then you’re like one of those Nazi war criminals who changed his name and moved to Argentina.”

          That’s some seriously excellent snark! Considering the topic of this post, I never dreamed you’d ignore any coherent response and go straight Baldwin. Nicely done!

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        • “…then you’re like one of those Nazi war criminals who changed his name and moved to Argentina.”

          That’s some seriously excellent snark! Considering the topic of this post, I never dreamed you’d ignore any coherent response and go straight Godwin. Nicely done!

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          • I didn’t intend my comment to be more cartoonish than yours was, and looking it over, I don’t think it was.

            promoting bigotry and racism – abandoning science – ignorant, profoundly stupid – insulting beyond belief – denying basic humanity – worthy of nothing but our contempt and ridicule

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  7. In addition, as I’ve said before, I live in Michigan (or as I recently heard on the internet, Michissippi). The GOP/Tea Party took over in 2010, and redistricted the state so that they control the state government, almost independent of any likely vote. So we are one of those labs for where the effects of the GOP/Tea Party can be judged, and they aren’t good.

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      • If, by “taking over” we are to understand the Emergency Managers are the new masters of that blighted landscape, Michigan is turning into a fiefdom of petty tyrannies.

        And there is Rick Snyder’s ignorant policy about same-sex spouses.

        Movin’ right along. The GOP’s cures seem to be killing the patient. When the auto industry was bailed out, oh that Rick Snyder thought that was a great idea. But when it comes to his own kith and kin, within the state borders, it’s a different story. Eventually Michigan will get sick of him: Snyder’s vulnerable. The gods answer the prayers of the stupid.

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          • There are some interesting reasons for Walker’s win. One, the Wisconsin Democrats were fairly venal creatures and had worn out their welcome. Ol’ Jim Doyle had played the merry idiot, forswearing any property tax increases, limiting his options.

            Walker came into the picture, pointing to Wisconsin’s troubled bureaucracy as the major impediment to progress. He wasn’t far wrong: the Democrats hadn’t responded appropriately to the economic downturn and Doyle wasn’t running again. Walker got the grievance voters and single-issue johnnies on his side. The Democrats brought a knife to a gun fight.

            Scott Walker is a crook and employs crooks. Everyone knows it. Walker’s staff is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. Patronage hires stink up the joint. Still, as long as Walker can keep the grievance voters on his side, he’s going to win. Wisconsin Democrats can’t find their own asses in the dark with a map and a flash light.

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            • So if I read you and Kimsie right, Republicans are corrupt and hate the poor, and Democrats are saintly but incompetent. I’m glad we’re steering this conversation away from stereotypes.

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              • I said Jim Doyle was a merry idiot. He played some devious games with the money while in office and got slapped down for it. I didn’t say the Wisconsin GOP were crooks, I’m presently living with a girl who votes GOP.

                I said Scott Walker is a crook and so are many of his staffers. No denying it. Take a stroll around that site. Lots to see.

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              • It’s like Theodicy all over again.

                Evil exists.
                We just need to get rid of the Republicans (who are preventing us from being omnibenevolent) and give the Democrats more power (thus addressing the omnipotent problem) and we can finally have the Eden that we know in our hearts should exist.

                (Seriously: how many solutions amount to “fewer Republicans/more power for Democrats”?)

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                • Not mine. I want more Republicans (one party systems suck ASS, and you know it). and less Koch. less Scaife would be nice too. (no, I’m not going to haul out the list of secondstringers that pal around with those dudes).

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                • Politics, like theology and romance, all begin with the fallacy of projection. I just love the word “disillusioned”. I’ve said it a thousand times: it’s the sound made by the stupid when they’re being forced to learn something.

                  All politics is local. Politics resolves to people. Scott Walker is a crook, not all Republicans. Quite a few Republicans are currently mad at him about this little dingleberry.

                  Wisconsin Democrats are hardly any better — but again, it resolves to people. Doyle’s people didn’t cope with the deficits they’d created. They moved a bunch of money around like so many deck chairs on the Titanic and thought they could get away with it. Well, they didn’t get away with it. They tried to recall Walker, and failed. Why? Because, after Doyle, the Democrats lacked a coherent message.

                  Why the hell should I continue to try to inject any facts into this discussion when all I get out of you and Pinky is this sort of response? Anything to say about the facts? Not a word. Just this tendentious claptrap about some Democratic Eden. You paying any attention to Wisconsin politics?

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                  • Blaise, I think that Walker can be explained by pointing out that the pendulum swings. Michigan was reliably Blue for a good long time. Detroit was Blue for even longer.

                    Things got very, very bad indeed and it’s not unreasonable to put a good deal of that on the elected politicians. The Democrats in Michigan were pretty danged corrupt and this manifested itself in a *LOT* of different ways.

                    If Wisconsin is anything like Michigan (and, if memory serves, it’s not that different), it doesn’t surprise me that the pendulum swung back after decades of corruption on the part of the bums in office.

                    The only thing that surprises me is the pretense that the state of things is due to the last few years rather than the last few decades.

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              • Certain Republicans hate the poor (or, more accurately, subsidizing the poor. this includes police and military). I can give names if you’d like. Some of the names come from personal experience.

                I’m not the one calling Democrats “saintly but incompetent”… Got an ongoing FBI investigation hereabouts to prove otherwise.

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                  • That’s it. A generous sprinkling of Tinkerbell’s foo-foo dust and we can turn genuine issues such as Scott Walker’s grifting and Rick Snyder’s ham-handed bigotry into Straw Men. Sorta like Rumplestiltskin, only in reverse: spinning gold into straw.

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                  • They aren’t strawmen if they’ve got names and billions of dollars to back ’em up. They may be STUPID (“welcome home beuregard!” stupid), but I ain’t making it up as I go along.

                    Also: read my above response to Jay. Then read it again, because I mean it.

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                    • I read it, but it doesn’t mean much to me. I mean, everyone wants the old opposition party back, as they remember it. Republicans want to be contending with pro-life, pro-defense Democrats, and Democrats would rather be on committees with moderate, compromising Republicans. They forget about the Kennedys and the Helmses. They also romanticize away the fights and name-callings.

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                    • Pinky,
                      Nah, I want all new parties. Preferably different ones all running different versions of my ideas (hehe!).

                      But really, I want people around who CARE and want to fix things. And who aren’t afraid to stand on their principles, occasionally.

                      I believe that one needs to keep some powder dry, and that refusing to compromise on anything is… not governance. Gingrich/Clinton were STATESMEN who got things done. Nobody mistook Gingrich for someone who was lilly-livered, did they? I’d rather have contending ideologies, than a bunch of people sucking up to the Beltway Media.

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