Over the past few years, liberals like me have pointed out countless times that the Republican party was being (or would be soon, as the case might have been) terribly damaged by the ideological extremism and general nuttiness of the faction that took over the party between 2009 and 2010. But we have to be honest and acknowledge that it didn't always work out that way. They were able to win a number of tangible victories despite the fact that the public doesn't look favorably on the things they wanted to do. In many cases, an extremist Republican ousted a perfectly conservative Republican in a primary, and now the extremist Republican is in possession of a safe seat. And of course, they won a huge victory in the 2010 elections. For all the fun we've had at the expense of people like Michele Bachmann, the damage they did to the GOP wasn't always as serious as we thought it would be.
But I think we're seeing the limits that the House Republicans' extremism imposes on their ability to accomplish a practical political task. The task in question is taking full advantage of an administration scandal or two in order to do maximum damage to the President. And they can't seem to manage it.
When a party suffers electoral losses, it often engages in a particular kind of internal debate. On one side are those who say, "We have to come up with some new policies to appeal to the voters who are rejecting us." On the other side are those who say, "The policies aren't the problem—we need to communicate better." Maybe it's the substance, or maybe it's the packaging. But what if it's both? What if voters dislike you not only because of what you're advocating, but of how you talk to them and who you are to boot?
Frank Lautenberg, the senator from New Jersey, died today. He wasn't the most charismatic guy around, and his record of legislation may not rival someone like Ted Kennedy, but he worked hard on a few issues that were important to him, particularly environmental protection and containing the spread of guns, and he was a reliable advocate for liberal values and programs over a long career spanning two tours in the Senate. A World War II veteran and one of the founders of payroll giant ADP, Lautenberg made millions in business, but unlike many others who take their wealth into politics, he didn't believe people should be punished for being poor. In the last year he made news mostly for some spats with Cory Booker, who was planning to run against him in next year's Democratic primary, and for spurring some debate on when a politician becomes too old to serve. But now, Chris Christie, of whom Lautenberg was none too fond, will be appointing his temporary successor.
Yes, it's crass and cynical to begin the political speculation the moment someone dies. But to paraphrase Hyman Roth, this is the business they chose. So what happens now?
Grandpa? Is that you? (Wikimedia Commons/Gaetan Lee)
This Sunday's New York Times business section had a big article on a guy named Dmitry Itskov, a Russian multi-millionaire who is using some of his money to solve the problems of hunger, environmental degradation, and mortality by creating a world in which all of us have out consciousness uploaded into avatars, or robot bodies. He calls it the 2045 Initiative, since that's his target date for it all coming together. Sound like a good idea? My opinion on this is complicated, but let's hear from him first:
We Americans tend to think of Canadians as almost exactly like us, except less interesting. They're polite and considerate, they don't start wars, and though they can be rather brutal if you put them on ice and give them a hockey stick, on the whole, Canada is sort of the Ned Flanders of North America. There's a reason many believe that the most boring headline ever to appear in an American newspaper is "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative," which adorned a 1986 New York Times column by Flora Lewis.