Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Mr. Consensus"

E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post literally phones in a piece on Ohio politics and "Mr. Consensus" Gov. "Taxin' Ted" Strickland that is just too absurd to ignore. What is so absurd? Glad you asked... Let's start with the notion that Strickland is some sort of savior of the Democratic Party capable of making even those pesky red staters like him and his politics.
At a moment of festering polarization in national politics, Strickland is Mr. Consensus. He doesn't hide his progressive views -- he calls himself "pro-choice, pro-labor and pro-universal health care" -- and yet just about everyone thinks of this ordained Methodist minister as a moderate because he spends a lot of time in places where Democrats don't dare venture, offering soothing sentiments you're unlikely to run into on talk radio or the Internet.

"If you act with respect toward the people who disagree with you," Strickland said over the telephone when we finally got around to talking, "they'll give you a break and won't cut you off."
Sure. That's the reason why Ohio voted in a tax and spend liberal who thinks it is okay to kill unborn children.

The real reason? Well, even E. J. has to get around to telling the real story...
Strickland's political skill only partly explains Ohio's political transformation. A state that voted narrowly for President Bush in 2000 and 2004 not only elected Strickland as governor in 2006 but also sent Sherrod Brown, an economic populist with a far-more liberal public profile, to the U.S. Senate.

The conversion rate among Ohio voters in just two years was staggering. According to exit polling, 30 percent of Ohioans who voted for Bush in 2004 voted for Strickland in 2006; 20 percent of Bush's 2004 voters supported Brown.

Why the big change? Scandals involving former governor Robert Taft and former representative Bob Ney made even loyal Republicans squeamish. Strickland won a fifth of self-identified Republicans and a quarter of conservatives, while holding on to more than 90 percent of liberals and Democrats, and roughly 70 percent of moderates and independents. If national Democrats reached such numbers in 2008, they'd win the presidency decisively.
Taft and Ney caused the election of Taxin' Ted make no mistake about it. The Ohio GOP failed to come up with a strategy that would counter the overwhelming evidence that they had become corrupt and rotten to the core (and I am still waiting for evidence that something has changed...) and so we got stuck with Democrats who haven't spared any time at all in becoming just as corrupt and rotten as the Republicans they replaced.

As for E. J.'s pipedream of national Democrats getting those kinds of numbers, dream on big guy...it ain't happening. America has delivered a sharp rebuke of the Democratic Congress putting its approval ratings in...wait for it...Bob Taft territory. The Democrats have revealed themselves to be every bit as adept at managing the Culture of Corruption that they campaigned to eradicate but just can't seem to bring themselves to actually do.

Finally, Dionne hints at the real issue facing Ohio today:
The new economy has hit Ohio hard. Industrial cities such as Youngstown and Cleveland have suffered under the lash of globalization. Brown's tough stand against free trade appealed in a place where the loss of well-paying blue-collar jobs makes the promise of a flat, highly competitive world fall very flat indeed.
Six months in and it looks like Strickland is a failure on this front as the unemployment rate rose again in the state that has the second worst business climate for taxes in the nation. At some point, maybe Taxin' Ted and his liberal buddies will figure out that there is a correlation there, but I'm not holding my breath. And Sherrod Brown is every bit as much of the problem as Strickland...or at least, his views are. Fair free trade is what the global economy is all about and people like Brown interfere with that balance with tariffs and heated rhetoric that sounds good to the voter, but actually hurts the entire state economy in the long run. What foreign investor or business would want to come here? I sure wouldn't...

Turning our eyes to '08, Dionne has this to add:
What might Democratic presidential candidates learn from Ohio? As a matter of style, Strickland suggests they must understand that "people are desperately wanting to believe that political leaders understand them and that they are trying to deal with their day-to-day lives." Memo to overly cautious candidates: Strickland also thinks that "the display of genuine emotion is important."
WRONG. What voters really want is competence without corruption. They want minimal intrusion into their daily lives by government that seems to have a continuing problem with mission creep.
There's the rub for Democrats in 2008. Voters want government to work but aren't sure that it can. They want government to solve problems but worry that it won't. This creates a strategic paradox: Democrats need to discredit Bush's government without discrediting government altogether.
Good luck with that, Democrats...

Democrats keep saying that they can do things better but every time they are given the chance they manage to screw it up. Republicans haven't really fared much better, but at least they have some idea about what we're talking about. Or do they...

Now, we apply focus on the Ohio GOP itself...
Strickland, because he has executive power, has advantages that Democratic presidential candidates don't. In introducing his first budget, he decided not to increase taxes. Confronting a state legislature under Republican control, he chose to deprive the GOP of what would have been its main talking point against him. "I think some of my Republican colleagues were unhappy about that," Strickland said with a chuckle about his no-tax-increase budget. But he did push successfully for a broad children's health insurance plan and a freeze on tuitions at state colleges and universities, both of which make voters happy.

State Rep. Kevin DeWine, the deputy chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, credits Strickland with introducing "a budget that was pretty fiscally responsible," but he argues that Strickland has not been tested yet. "He's not had to make a decision where he's had to expend any political capital," DeWine said.
Now, maybe there is some context here that E. J. elected to omit, but I highly doubt it. What did the Deputy Chair of the Ohio GOP do here? He just handed over the fiscal conservative label to Taxin' Ted...
That's true. On the other hand, Strickland has capital to spend because he has combined progressive goals with a moderate demeanor and a cheerful approach to potential adversaries. When you talk to him, you realize you're not in Washington anymore.
I've made this argument many a time here on WMD, but it is worth saying again: If Strickland hasn't had to spend any political capital in an environment where Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature; who's fault is it that Strickland hasn't had to spend any political capital? There was plenty more that could have been cut from that budget to ease the burden on the taxpayer. Republicans should have pushed for it. If I can get something for free, I'm going to take it... I might even hug you for it if it really makes me feel happy that I got my way...

E. J., the next time you write about Ohio, I suggest you actually get out here and talk to real people.