Thursday, December 4, 2003

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I'm back. I'm swamped.

Good to be back in Chicago. Not so good to have hundreds of e-mail piled up in one's inbox. While I'm sorting through these, two new blogs to check out. For those interested in Republicans like me, check out The Bully Pulpit. The e-mail sent to me claimed that the blog has, "the brains of a Volokh and the wit of a Drezner!" Reads at your own risk.

For lighter fare, among the interesting web sites I've found -- this history of the pregnancy test kit, wittily entitled The Thin Blue Line.


posted by Dan on 12.04.03 at 10:41 AM


I noticed a few things about that Bull Moose Republican blog.

First and most obviously its authors identify themselves as Republicans, not independents or people who "vote for the man, not the party." I mention this only because anyone serious about changing one of the major political parties has no choice but to make his ultimate allegiance to that party clear.

Second, the Bull Moose Republican (or BMR) blog's tag line is "Building a More Diverse Party." After reading through the authors' stated principles and a few days worth of blog entries I'm still not sure what this means. I suppose it could mean wanting to get more blacks, or non-English speakers, or recent immigrants, union members, homosexuals, trial lawyers or any other of a variety of people who now tend to shy away from joining the Republican Party to change their minds. The trouble is that while most of the BMRs' principles and the legislation they support could appeal to some voters who now tend to favor Democrats, they have much more appeal to traditional white, better educated, higher income Republican voters. And this has been the GOP's problem all along -- I am speaking here strictly of the politics -- namely, that it has made a lot of noise about how its business-oriented agenda really does benefit people who normally vote Democratic only to see these voters dismiss the noise because they don't agree with a business-oriented agenda.

This doesn't bother me, especially. Changing voting patterns is normally a process that takes many years. While it is happening people promoting it can look out of touch, even silly, but a conceptually sound effort maintained over a period of time can quite often be successful in the end. But to be successful ultimately also requires something else that I'm not sure the BMRs really understand.

You will search their principles and essays in vain for strong statements in support of unpopular ideas. Actually, you will search in vain for any statements at all about issues of central importance to America's future: government spending, the structure of federal taxation, national security and foreign policy, trade, the role of the judiciary in making law. Leave aside for the moment the incongruous association of Theodore Roosevelt with a blog devoted mostly to public policy issues of secondary importance (a recent entry on the possible delay of a bill providing funding for most of the federal government was headed "Bad News for AmeriCorps Funding") and any issues relating directly to the substance of policy. Just consider the politics, and the legacy of John McCain's 2000 campaign.

Understand that I supported McCain four years ago, and still think he would have been a much better President than George Bush has been. His legacy -- the campagin finance issue apart -- has mostly been a fizzle. He has an image, and a voice, but he is not a major force in national politics. A lot of that has to do with his having done in 2000 and later the same kind of thing the BMRs are doing now: talking about themes, trying to capture imaginations with rhetoric and policy micro-initiatives, and in general shying away from big fights he is likely to lose.

This is the kind of thing that makes a certain amount of sense for a candidate facing a close election that can be lost if a key group of voters is offended by something the candidate says. For a group of bloggers it is completely pointless -- what do they have to lose by being controversial at this stage in their careers? -- and for McCain himself it has not done much to bolster his influence.

The point, I guess, is not that the BMR blog is worthless, but that its authors need to give people some reason to care what they have to say. They haven't, though I suppose they haven't really offended anyone either. With a few exceptions that's pretty much been John McCain's story for the last three years as well.

posted by: Zathras on 12.04.03 at 10:41 AM [permalink]

What's the difference between a Blue Dog Democrat and a Bull Moose Republican?

posted by: p mac on 12.04.03 at 10:41 AM [permalink]

Your above comment was just what I was thinking.

posted by: Jim Coomes on 12.04.03 at 10:41 AM [permalink]

p mac, a Blue Dog Democrat is one who strives to take somewhat more conservative positions than the major national Democratic interest groups on specific issues in order to get reelected in districts that are trending Republican, mostly in the South and West. In other words, he is an elected official trying not to get out of touch with his constituents views. Some Northeastern Republicans do the same kind of thing, though they don't have a colorful label.

Bull Moose Republicans are not elected officials. They have no constituents. The advantage of having no power base is that you can define yourself however you want; while I don't have major problems with any of the items on their agenda, the picture they paint of themselves is one done in pastels. They might more accurately call themselves Bull Mouse Republicans.

John McCain is the closest thing to a role model Bull Moose Republicans (and a number of other people) have in politics, but he does not aspire to lead a political movement. His political style relies too heavily on improvisation and regular, positive media exposure for him to drive the formation of an agenda to which the GOP might turn if key elements of President Bush's policy fail. Surrounded by the institutional support of the major executive departments and a large White House staff I think he would have done very well, but in the Senate his closest associates have been mere publicists and electioneering hands rather than the policy experts who could help him be a force on major issues. McCain is in his late 60s now, and I was frankly surprised that he decided to run for reelection. He remains a valuable Senator and a genuinely good guy, but his Presidential run clearly marked the apex of his influence in American politics.

posted by: Zathras on 12.04.03 at 10:41 AM [permalink]

I thank Zathras for reading in its entirety and for constructing a thoughtful response to its content. I'd like to respond to a few of his points so as to clarify what the Bull Moose Republicans are about.

Zanthras argues that our site does not tackle the most important issues of the day and does not make sufficiently bold policy statements. I respectfully disagree.

The Bully Pulpit blog is a product of the Bull Moose Republicans; we are not a blog, we are an organization that publishes one. Our purpose, then, is twofold: first, we seek to coax the GOP into accepting positions under our pillars where we think change is needed; second, we seek to persuade non-Republicans that the Republican Party has the best answers to the problems which they care about. In essence, we are attempting to bring about change in the Party from the inside while simultaneously encouraging like-minded “outsiders” to join us. It’s a task even more delicate than it sounds.

Our policies, then, are developed with an eye towards attracting new faces to the Party. We found inspiration in developing these policies in the life, rhetoric, and actions of Theodore Roosevelt. TR championed a government that was fair and accountable to its citizens, an economic policy which gave all Americans an opportunity to succeed, a commitment to civic duty, and the fair and equal treatment of those who came to American shores. In that spirit, we support the right of parents to choose the best schools for their children; we argue for sensible campaign finance reform that promotes the influence of citizens in civic life over that of corporations; we call for the engagement of private charitable organizations in the administration of social programs; we promote legislation that will tackle the “housing gap” for new Americans. Our policies lay the foundation for a citizen-based (not business-based) style of governance, and they appeal to members of every race and gender (see our op-eds on school choice and the housing gap for examples).

These are not issues of secondary importance, nor are they uncontroversial—just ask a sample of our national or any state legislature what it thinks of school choice, national service funding, or English immersion programs. We have several pages of supported legislation and policy priorities that often spark intense debate on the Hill, and similar op-eds and policy statements will soon follow.

True, you won’t see a discussion of Iraq policy or of abortion on our website. As an outreach-minded organization, there is no virtue in promoting controversial policies solely for the sake of being controversial. Grassroots movements require focus—ours is on the issues that we believe can really bring people into the GOP and on which our organization can have a significant impact on party policy. There is a market for that kind of rational and practical political discourse, both online and offline.

We also see no reason to express a view on every issue in American politics. The creation of full policy platforms is necessary to governance and is thus a necessary function of a political party. We are not a political party; we do not seek to govern, only to build a more diverse Republican Party. Therefore, we see no reason to adopt a full policy platform.

I encourage Zanthras and all other readers to continue to check out the Bully Pulpit blog and the rest of our site ( and to provide the same kind of thoughtful feedback Zanthras has posted, so that we can continue to provide an interesting, informative, and thought-provoking blog.


Greg Wright
Director of Membership
Bull Moose Republicans

posted by: Greg Wright on 12.04.03 at 10:41 AM [permalink]

Zathras, and here I was thinking Blue Dog Democrats vote the way they do because they believe it!

I'm so disappointed to find that it's because they're just holding on by their fingertips in an otherwise Republican district. (Not!)

I like the Blue Dogs because I think they've got the right message!

I don't trust the current Republican party because too many of them are wolves in moose's clothing.

posted by: p mac on 12.04.03 at 10:41 AM [permalink]

I must say, p mac, you've really positioned yourself well as the only person with the right answers! And, you manage to express them with sacrcasm and derision. Further congrats.

As for saying you don't trust the Republican party, I bet you're exactly the type of person Bull Moose Republicans are flying right past on their way to success. When I worked for a polling agency, my boss had a phrase for people like you: You only critize that which you know nothing about.

posted by: sherman on 12.04.03 at 10:41 AM [permalink]

Mr. Wright loses me with words like "coax" and "delicate." His group is engaged in politics, not handling cobras. You can't win victories if you don't fight battles.

Of the four initiatives he specifically mentions, two (engaging private charities in administering social programs and promoting school choice) reflect positions the Bush administration and the Republican Congressional leadership have already taken, albeit not always very effectually; one other (campaign finance reform) reflect legislation that passed last year; and one is targeted at a specific group of voters (new immigrants). And with this we are supposed to build a new "citizen-based style of governance?" One might as well vow to build an aircraft carrier out of a box of Lincoln logs.

There are issues that are controversial because they engage people's passions or elemental beliefs, and I wouldn't fault anyone from shying away from those. I myself could very happily live out my days without ever having another discussion about abortion or gay rights. But there are many other public policy issues that are controversial because they are important, with immediate impact on people's lives, import for America's future and -- not least in this context -- public perception of the Republican Party's relevance. Silence on these issues makes for less effective outreach, not more.

posted by: Zathras on 12.04.03 at 10:41 AM [permalink]

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