Sunday, June 17, 2012

Politics 2012: GOP Soundings

Dear Fellow American,
What issues do you want our Republican presidential campaign to focus on in 2012 as we fight to make Barack Obama a ONE-TERM president?

So begins a circular letter (6/7/12) from Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.  Among its recent recipients (6/7/12) is a GreeneLander who was “selected” from among “thousands of activists in our database” to “represent voters in your area in the OFFICIAL 2012 Presidential Platform Survey.”  Mr Priebus letter invites the recipient to fill out a questionnaire which is “REGISTERED to your name and address, identifying you as THE DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVE of VOTERS residing in your district.”  Accordingly, “The answers of selected and screened participants like you will represent the views and opinions of thousands of other grassroots conservatives [sic] in your area.” “Your answers will shape and guide our ongoing, official national campaign to elect Mitt Romney….and other Republican candidates….” They will indicate “how to weight serious issues in our 2012 Republican campaign efforts.” “That’s why you should be very proud to be among the select group of Republicans [sic] chosen to participate….”  Particularly:
Do you support Republican efforts to reform entitlements, cut spending and put our nation on track to a balanced federal budget without raising taxes?”
Do you support a full repeal of the ObamaCare healthcare legislation that [key Democrats] passed without revealing its full details, ever-rising costs and negative effects on quality, access and affordability?
[Do you share with Obama and the Democrats the belief] that higher tax rates and more federal spending are the keys to spurring economic growth?
Do you believe President Obama has done enough to strengthen and improve border security? Do you support expanding offshore drilling and increasing exploration for domestic oil and gas reserves to lessen our dependence on imported fuels?

Those questions function rhetorically as advocacy as well as inquiry.  While prepare the respondent for inquiries to come, they advocate a version of what ought to be regarded as the impending election’s main issues. 
Recipients of Mr Priebus’s four-page, single-spaced letter are urged to complete the Platform Survey and “return it to me,” along with “an election year contribution of $35, $50…or even $500,” “within the next 7 days.”   The suggested urgency, however, may be disingenuous.  The letter is a revised version of mailings that date back at least to last April. So is the questionnaire (whose text is still posted on the Republican National Committee’s web site).  The changes are illuminating. 
In earlier mailings, no assumption was made about who would be the Republican nominee for President.  Prominence was given then to the task of candidate-selection, and Mr Priebus took a clear stand on the matter of candidate-preference:  “With your input and support, we can let our Republican candidates know in no uncertain terms that folks like your WANT and EXPECT them to fight for our conservative values and principles….” (That sentence appears in the latest Priebus letter in a postscript).

The current Republican Platform Survey opens with some standard demographic queries (age group, education…) plus “Do you plan on volunteering for your local Republican Victory Center in the 2012 Presidential Election?”  It closes with another query about intended participation in the campaign to extinguish the “radical liberalism, reckless spending and embarrassing foreign policy” of Barack Obama.  In between, 30 questions appear under five headings: “Presidential Performance and Issues” plus “economic,” “national security,” “health care,” “values” issues, as well as “Entitlement Spending” and “The 2012 Campaign.”  The choice of questions marks a contrast with the earlier menu.  Thus:

Do you believe Congress should block President Obama’s efforts to raise the federal debt ceiling for borrowing and demand real cuts to federal spending?
Would you support another federal bailout of the automobile industry or large banks?
Do you support reforming the way the government pays for Medicare for future retirees – while preserving the existing program and options for those who now utilize it?
Do you agree that it is time to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan?
Do you believe medical malpractice reform to stop frivolous lawsuits and ever-increasing insurance premiums should be a priority of healthcare reform legislation?
“The ObamaCare mandate forcing religious medical institutions to provide services which go against their beliefs is a direct attack on Americans’ constitutionally guaranteed 1st  Amendment right to freedom of religion.” [Agree/Disagree]

“President Obama inherited an economy losing 800,000 jobs a month and averte a averted a worst economic mess while passing healthcare reform, saving the auto Industry, killing Osama bin Laden, and winding down the war in Iraq.  He has done a good job and deserves to be re-elected.” [Agree/Disagree/strongly/somewhat]
Do you believe that President Obama’s policies have helped make the economy better, had no impact, or made the economy, worse?
Do you support ID laws that require individuals to show a government issued picture ID when they go to the polls to vote?

Two of those new questions are distinctive in the survey as opportunities for respondents to voice esteem for the Obama record and policies.  They function as weed-outs, enabling the survey’s processors to spot respondents whose presence in the National Committee's data base is an error--respondents who are not  Republican activists and conservatives.

Question 3 in Republican Survey invites judgments about the relative importance of cited “issues.”  It also conveys suggestions about what matters qualify, and do not qualify, as contemporary political issues.   In this case, illumination can be gained by means of comparison, not with an earlier Republican menu, but with a competing alternative.
     As it happens, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Mr Priebus’s countepart as chair of the Democratic National Committee, has circulated on line a questionnaire (aimed at Democrats but accessible to all) soliciting opinions on, among other things, the relative importance of cited “issues.”   Thus, the rival party leaders offer an illuminating contrast between versions of potentially important issues, namely:

Strengthening border security
Reducing federal spending
Keeping taxes low
Exposing Obama’s radical left-wing policies
Repealing ObamaCare
Expanding domestic exploration for oil and gas
Stimulating job creation in the private sector
Reining in government employees’ unions
Demanding free and open trade to get U.S. manufacturing growing

Job Creation and Strengthening the economy
Health Insurance Reform
Clean Energy
Education Reform      
Wall Street Reform
Immigration Reform
(In the Republican case, respondents are asked not how important they rate the cited issues, but “how important it is to voters in your state to give attention” to those issues.  That inquiry may be a hangover from the days of battles, national and local, for Republican nominations.  In the Democratic case, respondents are invited not only to rate the importance of each cited issue, but also to rank-order the issues in degree of urgency). 

Reinforcing the sense of contrast that is imparted by the inter-party contrast in Issue menus can be an appreciation of words that do not appear in the Priebus message(s).  Reflecting on political events and controversies that have attracted news media coverage in recent months, one might expect to encounter, in a party platform survey, references to
Environment  Climate change      Women /women’s rights
Poverty          Recession                 Alternative fuels
Equality         Inequality                 Democracy
Civil Rights   Civil liberties            Immigrants
Citizenship     Terrorists                  Guantanamo
Indefinite detention
Those terms do not appear in Priebus letter or in the Republican Platform Survey.

Some questions in that survey pertain to prospective legislation, or what could be planks in a campaign platform.  They invite respondents to vote Yes or No on
*“a federal Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to stop deficit spending in Washington.”  
*“a phased-in increase in the retirement/eligibility age for Social Security benefits….”
*exempting retirees “from property tax increases on their residences.” 
(There’s a new one!)
*”allowng individuals under the age of 50 to opt to put a portion of their Social Security withholdings into private accounts that they control, but cannot access without penalty until their retirement.”
*“immediate and total repeal of the ObamaCare health care legislation.”
*the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade  
*“…allowing parents to use government vouchers to send their children to the school of their choice be it public, parochial or private”
*“voter ID law that require individuals to show a government-issued picture ID when they go to the polls to vote”?
*allowing federal funds to “be provided to non-profit organizations whose primary function is conducting abortions?” 

Strewn through the Priebus letter and the questionnaire are ideological labels.  Barack Obama & Co. are characterized (qua accused) of perpetrating ”creeping socialism, massive accumulation of federal debt and economic stagnation”; of an “unrelenting “ campaign to enact policies that are “radical left-wing” and “liberal”, of committing  “radical liberalism, reckless spending and [an] embarrassing foreign policy.”  No effort is made to define the key political terms.  But Priebus & Co. may offer clarification by way of imputing to Obama a malign “strategy of treating all countries as equal to the United States,” and determination “to increase taxes on individuals and families he considers to be ‘wealthy’,’’ to impose on the people a ‘single- payer’ government-run health insurance and health care system,” and to get rid of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Meanwhile, the Priebus message is noteworthy for allegiance to the term “conservative.”  Recipents are assumed to be Republican activists and champions of “conservative” values.   Thus, for Republicans who style themselves as “moderates,” “centrists,” or “progressives,” no hospitality is offered.


The GreeneLander who received the Priebus message(s), correctly named and addressed, is not a Republican activist. Or a GOP-style conservative. Or a Republican.

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