So Democrats and Republicans May Be Similar After All...
By Jared Crum '11
Russell Krantz is a conservative I can believe in.

I zipped down to Washington, D.C. in late February to check in with my good old buddy from the Grand Old Party. Russell, a common sense conservative from Washington State, is a former Republican congressional intern. He is also one of the most insightful and intelligent political observers I’ve known.

Last summer, Russell and I roomed together in the Tenleytown neighborhood of Washington and discovered that conservatives and liberals can get along after all. We shared dreams of what politics could be and should be: respectful, public—spirited and bipartisan in tone and behavior.

To those ends, I’m turning over my column this week to Russell. What follows is Russell’s take on current American politics, in snippets—from a recent conversation of ours. Our politics talk featured analysis, speculation, gossip, laughs and above all, respect.

Stick that in your angry pipe, Joe Wilson.

Speaking of Joe “You lie!” Wilson, why are there so many Republicans with his South Carolina accent, and so few with, say, an Amherst inflection?

“I think it goes back to the southern strategy of Nixon, how the rhetoric of the party shifted more towards social issues and a reaction against Sixties liberalism,” Russell said.

The Republicans “moved away from liberals and they just grew further and further apart.” Regional polarization became a legacy of the sixties.

“I think that for both parties, it was a period of redefining themselves.”

The Democrats, he said, disgraced by Vietnam, “moved more toward domestic issues” with which they could win.

Republicans of that era “brought out more of the very pro-American sentiment and … ‘nuclear family’ stuff.” These issues were “a stabilizing force against the perception of society moving too far too quickly … ” on social issues.

Can this polarization be overcome? Russell found a few points of agreement for liberals and conservatives, like civil liberties.

“I think that a lot of … conservatives who tend more toward libertarian ideas tend to always be suspicious of the government.”

He said anti-government libertarians’ fears about civil liberties were always there, latent: “They just get more supporters when the person in power is somebody conservatives don’t agree with.”

Russell and I agreed populism is another bipartisan phenomenon. “Both parties at certain times resort to populism to push their agenda. I think that the president also has populist rhetoric.”

Obama’s populism is more evident, Russell says, “when he’s out in districts talking with local media … than when he’s in Washington talking to national media. I’m simplifying it a little bit, but if you think about the way he talks during the State of the Union or in a press conference it has a different … tenor than when he’s in a contested congressional district.”

For Russell, Obama populism was not an automatic plus. “One of the things I like most about him is how he seems very analytical and level-headed about how he approaches things. All that goes out the window when he’s out barnstorming … I would say I like D.C. Obama better.”

No wonder Obama likes to get away and have fun, I thought. Washington is rife with partisanship. What drives this? Russell blamed the parties’ extreme wings, not mainstream participants.

“They always talk about the atmosphere of Washington as so polarized and poisonous. My impression is that it’s more of a reflection of the atmosphere of the entire country. I don’t think there’s any visceral hatred between members of different parties … the real venomous dislike and opposition is out in the districts. That’s where you get the Tea Party people now or, back in the Bush administration, the really antiwar people.”

The Tea Partiers came up again in the context of the Republican 2012 contest. “Is it going to be Sarah Palin?” I wondered.

“I would say at this point because of the sentiment out there it would not be Sarah Palin, but somebody who has the rural American populism down, who can speak in that language,” but has a thicker resume than Palin, Russell predicted.

Russell cautioned that not all potential Republican nominees could pull off that balance.

“I mean, Mitt Romney really tries to have that about him, but people keep realizing he’s a multi-millionaire from Boston who uses two gallons of hair gel a day and they can’t really relate to him.” Russell mentioned Texas Governor Rick Perry as one who could blend Tea Party street credibility with governing chops.

Texas governors reappeared as our conversation drew to a close. I asked Russell if George W. Bush deserves a Nobel Peace Prize if Iraq succeeds.

“One of the greatest things about Bush’s handling of the Iraq war is that I don’t know if the idea of getting a Nobel Peace Prize even crossed his mind, or even if it had, it was the kind of thing that would’ve had the slightest effect on what he was doing. The surge is the greatest example of that. It was radically unpopular when it happened,” Russell said, noting that Bush nonetheless refused to waver from his vision.

An American Nobel winner with a steady, long-term leadership style — that sounded familiar. Are Obama and Bush twins separated at birth? The image was a little too much bipartisanship for one conversation.

“It was good talking to you.”

You too, Russell.

Issue 22, Submitted 2010-04-14 04:52:54