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Are We Sure 'Civility' Will Help the Democrats? - Newsweek [View All]

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WillyT Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-17-11 03:53 PM
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Are We Sure 'Civility' Will Help the Democrats? - Newsweek
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Are We Sure 'Civility' Will Help the Democrats?
by Mickey Kaus
January 17, 2011


During the debate over welfare reform that consumed much of 1995 and 1996 in Congress, those who generally supported the Republican approach (ending the welfare "entitlement," imposing work requirements) had a very strong hand. Polls had consistently shown voters hated no-strings welfare. Even the Democratic president blamed welfare for sustaining a "culture of poverty." It would have been a minor feat of parliamentary skill for Republicans to somehow not reform welfare in this situation.

Yet they almost pulled it off. One reason was politicians like John Mica. During one of the early debates, Mica, a GOP representative from Florida, brandished a sign reading"Don't Feed the Alligators" to illustrate his argument that "unnatural feeding and artificial care creates dependency." A Wyoming congresswoman promptly compared welfare recipients to similarly dependent "wolves." You could debate the aptness of these attention-getting zoological metaphors, but they gave Democratic entitlement-defenders such as Barney Frank an opening to portray reformers as inhuman, disrespectful, possibly racist nutcases. Fortunately for Republicans, by the time the welfare debate resumed in 1996 they'd learned to leave the animals out of it. Reform passed convincingly.

Shorter version: Republicans toned it down, and that helped them win.

Which leads me to wonder: If the current frenzy for "civility" means Republicans have to take the sharp edges off their Tea Partyish rhetoric, will that really help Democrats? Democrats may think so. Byron York speculates that they're quietly congratulating Obama for raising the civility issue in his Tucson address even as he denied that incivility had anything to do with the shootinga strategy Obamaphile Jon Alter had advocated before the speech. Boy did it make Palin look bad! What's more, just when the number of GOP representatives is about to dwarf the number of Democrats who'll be listening to the State of the Union address, there's MSM momentum behind the idea that the parties should sit in an interspersed jumble so viewers won't be able to tell. Brilliant! Republicans are in a position to be mean to Democrats, and there's suddenly a campaign against meanness. What a happy coincidence!

But, like many seemingly clever, intuitive MSM/Dem strategies"Let's nominate a Vietnam war hero to run against President Bush!"this one may prove to be a dud, or worse. There's a reason, after all, why the White House has consistently attacked and therefore elevated relatively intemperate Republican figures such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beckmaking them the public faces of the GOP. The reason is that wild Beckish rhetoric turns off independent and moderate voters. For the same reason, the White House has always seemed to kind of like having the Birthers around. They're a great foil.

Why would Republican politicians ever fall into this "too hot" trap? Because hot rhetoric gins up their base. But now that they've won the House in an off year election, GOP pols don't need to please the base so much. They need the middle. They need swing congressmen to vote for their bills and they need supportive poll numbers to encourage those congressmen to do so. If a "civility" crusade succeeds in getting the most volatile Republicans to cool it and stop irritating the center, it won't be doing Obama's work for him. It will be doing John Boehner's work for him. <MK's Emphasis>




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