Thursday, February 14, 2008

Attack of the right-wing cannibals

It’s the electability, stupid.

Conventional wisdom says ideology is king and Republicans must wheezingly lurch to the right to win in November. John McCain better pick Mitt Romney, Sean Hannity or Tom DeLay (if he’s not in the slam) as veep if he wants to perk up the base.

The same debate is bobbing up in the 7th Congressional District. In the most overlooked story last week, some Michigan GOP poobahs are fishing for a candidate to knock off freshman U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg in a primary.

The preacher’s problems evidently go beyond the congressional cafeteria mucking up his coffee, as he recently whined to the media. The darling of the Religious Right is a top 10 Democratic target, has burned through a lot of green and is desperately struggling to raise more.

Walberg just might be able to accomplish a feat no one thought possible: He could lose the blood-red 7th District.

Though there are several good prospects – popular former state Rep. Clark Bisbee of Jackson, is rarin’ to go – a primary remains unlikely.

Why? Just look at 2006, when Walberg handily defeated then-U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, an almost universally respected public servant of four decades who had won his seat with almost 60 percent of the vote.

“Republican powerbrokers can’t go to the right of Tim and still be Republican,” says former state Sen. Phil Hoffman, a Walberg supporter. “And Tim’s shown that if you go to the left of him, he can beat you.”

Hoffman knows more about the 7th District than just about anyone I know. And primaries tend to be orgies for extremists.

But the times, they are a-changin’. Republicans can change with them or be left behind. After all, the (conservative) Weekly Standard soberly estimates only 3.6 percent of the electorate is very conservative.

It’s not 1984 anymore (sob) and the crazy-quilt coalition of Wall Street, the Moral Majority, fiscal conservatives, Reagan Democrats and old-fashioned moderates has fissured amidst competing and incongruous interests.

So the case against Tim Walberg is all about electability, baby. It’s something he’s wrestled with his entire career, barely eking out wins in the 2006 general election against Sharon Renier (a chicken farmer with $1.03 in the bank) and even as a state rep for the Bible Belt of Lenawee County.

“If Joe won in 2006, it would be a safe seat today and (Democratic challenger) Mark Schauer would be concentrating on being a good Senate Minority Leader,” Hoffman notes.

That’s why party elders should sit Timmy down and politely tell him to get the hell out.

Look, it’s no secret the state GOP brass preferred Walberg’s ultraconservative views to those of the moderate Schwarz and basked in his defeat. The 7th will always stay red, they chortled, so why not have someone who swizzles the Kool-Aid?

Not so fast, boys and girls.

Tim’s politics aren’t most people’s politics. Most of us don’t believe in abolishing the Department of Education or banning abortion without an exception for the mother’s health.

Most importantly, Walberg’s done nothing to create jobs in the depressed district by voting against a new runway for the Battle Creek Airport or save jobs at the Canadian National Railway Co.

It’s shaping up to be another colossal congressional year for Democrats, whose war chest is 13 times the GOP’s. Republicans keep retiring, leaving 28 open seats to defend.

The question for the right-wing is simple: Do you want to win or soak in self-righteous defeat?

In the 7th, they need someone who appeals to more than the Club for Growth and Right to Life lobbies. Otherwise, their only hope is to tar and feather Schauer, who’s made himself an easy target with votes to hike taxes and against a partial-birth abortion ban.

On the national front, Republicans need to let McCain be McCain – a straight-talking conservative who can woo the swelling ranks of independents.

But many party and talk radio kingpins will nihilistically sit on their hands for him. The idea of excoriating a pinko president for four years (particularly if it’s a Clinton, praise be!) will be boffo for ratings and fundraising.

Indignant ideologues will, of course, hiss that this is about principle. Indeed.

It makes me nostalgic for the University of Iowa in the ‘90s, when Socialists led the fight for free speech and against sweatshops. But they could never band together with non-believers to run a student government slate. In fact, the Marxists despised liberals (capitalist pig sellouts) even more than the radical right.

Anyone who questioned this calisthenics in logic was treated to a huffy, “You don’t understand the politics.”

They remained ideologically pure - and lost time after time. The left, as any student of history (and observer of the blogosphere) knows, has a dreadful habit of devouring its own.

Right-wingers, take note. That’s food for thought.

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