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"Hell No" Is No Platform

Since Sarah Palin coined this imaginative slogan, it has taken on the function of analysis, inspiration, program for the Republicans and for their outlier allies. But, of course, it is not any of these.

Like "yes, we can" in 2008, it is exhortative. As it happens, the Obama chant became a decisive and mortifying flop when the president failed even in his most easy symbolic chore to dislodge the Guantanamo SP prisoners from the big jail house at the southern tip of Cuba when his Democratic congressional allies simply wouldn't have them in their districts. Obama then tried to export them to Yemen...and, oops, something terrible happened in Yemen.

Now that we know that the Obama pre-presidency was motivated domestically mostly by feel-good social democracy which, after all, had no history in power, we can understand the resentments of the White House loyalists who thought that words and emotions were a political program. Even those parts of his program that are programmatic failed to cohere because they were up for barter almost on the first day they were offered up.

Well, the "give 'em hell" Republicans are facing a similar situation.

The bad news has been given to them systematically in the writings of David Frum, whom I won't claim as an ally because he has enough trouble with the Republicans. And the truth is that his real sensibility is not ours but theirs. Still, he is the among the few truly intelligent analysts on the right in the public prints. And, to be candid, Frank Foer and I tried to lure him into our tent. (Others: Christopher Caldwell, Charles Krauthammer, George Will, plus David Shribman who has not exactly a conservative politics but a conservative temper. Among the liberals my far and away favorite is E.J. Dionne.)

Here are five cogent (no, provocative) Frum paragraphs from this morning's Financial Times.

“Not just no – Hell no!” That slogan of Sarah Palin’s has animated many Republicans in recent months as November’s US mid-term elections near. It has done well for Ms Palin herself; her political action committee raised $865,000 in the second quarter. The former Alaska governor’s example has inspired even more radical imitators: Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann – who last week accused the president of “turning our country into a nation of slaves” – raised twice as much as Ms Palin over the same period.
It is not so clear, however, that this mood is serving the larger party or the country as a whole. A competition in which those who say the wildest things raise the most money and emerge as the most visible leaders overshadows the truth that most Republicans are committed to reasonable, businesslike governance. As the mid-terms draw close, the party needs less rhetoric and more policy.
Republicans rolled out the famous “Contract with America” six weeks before surging to victory in the 1994 congressional election. That contract focused the party’s attention on the voters it most urgently needed to win: Republicans who had abandoned George H.W. Bush in 1992 to follow the third-party candidate, Ross Perot. The 1994 contract sought to assure voters that Republicans had responses to the problems uppermost in their minds. It also imposed a discipline on candidates: do not “muse” and stick to the script.
Sixteen years later, and Republican leaders have been working through the spring and summer on a similar platform for 2010. As yet it remains uncertain whether they will produce anything. But if they do, it is easy to guess what it will feature: a promise to vote to repeal President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan, measures to favour business investment, and the extension of former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts otherwise slated to expire at the end of this year.
These promises are inadequate. A vote to repeal healthcare would be symbolic only: even if repeal passed, which it would not, the president would veto it. Extending the Bush tax cuts would be helpful to long-term economic growth – but hardly constitutes an effective anti-recession measure. The Bush tax cuts have been in force since 2001 and 2003. The crash of October 2008 and the ensuing recession happened anyway. The medicine that did not prevent the disease is hardly likely to cure it.

The Republicans are in trouble, too.