Frist’s Flip Flop (redux)

(Note: This post comes on the heels of the original Frist’s Flip Flop. The original post was intended to be more along the lines of breaking news, however, now that the news has been nice and broken proper, I’ve had a little time to do some thinking on the subject.)

Since word began to leak out of Frist’s decision to turn around on the issue of embryonic stem cells research, political insiders have been all abuzz as to why. What in the world would convince the socially conservative surgeon turned Senate Majority Leader to turn his back on the political bread and butter that is Bush’s “culture of life?”

Admittedly, it’s an interesting question. Following the logic that the simplest answer is probably the right answer, one would have to assume that Dr. Frist’s change of heart is just that, a change of heart. In his words on the Senate floor, the GOP’s top senator had said this was a decision of “policy, not politics,” and several insiders close to Frist have confirmed that. The story that filters out to regular Joes and Janes like you and me is that Sen. Frist has spent a considerable amount of time going over the science and the ethical dilemmas to come up with this new position.

Of course, how often does one find simple answers in politics?

Before continuing on, let’s make some assumptions. If Frist’s change of heart was not solely based upon the merits of the issue at hand, then we can assume that the change of heart was intended to garner some sort of political gain. Considering that midterm elections are only about a year away, and the involved campaigns could start to warm up later this year, then we can assume that this is at least a possible motivator behind Frist’s decision. Also considering that the White House is up for grabs in 08, it is reasonable to assume that this might also play a part behind the turn around. Another important assumption to make is that since stem cell research is not as prominent among the mainstream, nor is it as divisive, it is probably one of the safest of the hot button issues for Frist to break rank upon. Or at least so we can assume.

With these assumptions we are not ready to answer, but instead only ask more questions.

Is this a political trick, or a political ploy of some sort?

If you’re not willing to accept the easy answer, than this question is probably one of the first to pop into mind. Interestingly enough, I can see this being a ploy very much along the same vein as President Bush’s gay marriage ban attempts. In short I call it legislation without the consequences. We already know, and Frist already knows, that Bush will veto his take on embryonic stem cell research. It’s a done deal, and curiously enough one of the few non question marks in this whole scenario. Already knowing you are going to fail grants one an interesting level freedom to do what you want.

Looking into President Bush’s attempt to constitutionally ban gay marriage, we can see some helpful parallels. First, anyone with half a head on their shoulders knows right now that a national ammendment as such would never get passed in this day and age. Forget about it. But Bush still tries anyway. Now whose vote does he lose on this? Social liberals, definitely, but he was going to lose them anyway. Log Cabin Republicans not endorsing him might have been a little shock, but not much of one. Homosexuals in general are probably out, but again, not a big surprise. But there is a lot to be gained. He gained every homophobe you can imagine, social conservatives, those who don’t hate gays but don’t feel that they should be married etc. Plus, if you listened to his stump speeches and such, he left just enough room for suburbia to feel okay about hating gays because he himself would say that he thinks gays are great American citizens, they just shouldn’t get married. In short, you may be alienating everyone on the hard left, but in return, you pick up lots of people on the right, and at least stay neutral with people in the center. At the same time, you get the added benefit of not having to face the music on your legislation.

With Frist, we can see a similar situation here. Knowing that Bush is going to veto the bill gives Frist the opportunity to back it without having to really face the music on having it pass into law. An interesting thing to look for is if the bill gets sent up to the oval office and if it gets vetoed, does Frist rally Republican support to overturn the veto? To go with this train of thought, my guess would definitely be no.

But how would this affect the 06 elections?

A big problem with the GOP is the Science and Education crowd. Without intentionally trying to start a “we’re smarter than you,” pissing match, I have to admit that social conservatism doesn’t really do well with the largely liberal American Acedamia. A Frist vote could lend the Republicans some legitimacy in this area.

And you have to remember, unlike abortion, many more people are for embryonic stem cell research. You will most likely lose every anti stem cell voter by moving pro choice, but you will not lose every anti abortion voter by going pro stem cell research.

So while Frist may not be on the ballot in ’06, those who are on the ballet can get a little love from the science and research crowd based on his vote, particularly if you get Frist to campaign on your behalf.

To be honest, though, I’m not really feeling 06 as a prime mover behind Frist’s decision. No I think Dr. Frist is looking three years ahead and not just one, and that’s where things get real interesting.

First we have to ask; will voters go as socially conservative as they did on the last two presidential elections?

This has got to be one of the big questions facing all republican hopefuls right about now. Coming off of two terms of a socially conservative president, you have to ask yourself if it’ll work for three times in a row. My thoughts are that the greater American voting bloc will shift a little towards the center this upcoming time.

I say this for lots of reasons. First, I need to dispell the thoughts that we can do a radical social shift to the left in this upcoming presidential election. It’s just not going to work, and the reason why is because W just isn’t polling that bad. Okay the working theory is this, in determining shifts in votes based on social orientation, you should be able to gage it based on national content, or discontent regarding the current president. This is a combination of how many people don’t like the president, and how much they don’t like him (in order of importance).

Considering that Bush flits at about the half-way mark and a little below, means that the national consensus isn’t displeased enough with his style of social conservatism to move to hardcore social liberalism, but it is promising for someone trying to move in a little closer to center.

To go along with this, is another theory I have regarding the hardcore religious right voters, and their influence. I think it is reasonable to assume that the dyed in the wool radical rightwing voters make up a relatively small voting bloc. I’m not talking about christians, I’m talking about the fundies. Not just evangelicals, but severely politically active Evangelicals. That’s maybe a point or two on the polls. But their sphere of influence is maleable based upon the political activity that affects and has the attention of those demographic groups adjacent to this small yet potent bloc. In otherwords, if there is a political void of issues for someone that is, say, middle class suburban christian, but not evangelical or politically active, then that person is susceptible to an evangelical person’s influence.

As an illustration, here are two small examples:

Example A; Rob lives in suburbia, takes his family to church maybe once every month or two. He has a good job, and no real worries. With his situation as it is, if a religious political activist makes Rob a target, employing religious motivation and justifications for voting for a particular candidate, then it is likely that Rob will vote that way.

Example B; Same Rob, but now let’s say, his job is in jeopardy, or maybe he’s got a kid that just got diagnosed with a serious disease. Rob is going to be less inclined to allow someone else to set the agenda for him.

Of course it goes a lot more complex than this. There is a definite onus upon opponent candidates to take the Christianity out of debate, or to change the context, but by now you should get the idea, right? The short of it is that the religious right is a small bloc in and of themselves, but weild a large level of inluence that can be overcome.
So why now? Why this issue?

Again, lots of reasons. Maybe Frist forsees a shift to the center, and with presidential aspirations, is seeking to try and move that direction without completely alienating his social conservative voters. Or chew on this.

Frist, despite being a big name on the hill, and the Senate Majority Leader, is in the mainstream a relative no name. He’s not the rockstar that John McCain and Hillary Clinton seem to be (by this I’m referring solely to name recognition). This is one of those times where you have to think not like a political wonk. You say Bill Frist to a political nut, and you got no problems, you say Bill Frist to the non politicos, and you will probably get a blank stare.
So it’s possible that he may be trying to start making a name for himself partly by breaking rank on a somewhat high profile story. At the very least, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Frist is trying to make a name for himself that is SEPERATE from that of President Bush, perhaps in an attempt to avoid being called a presidential lap dog. And remember, if there was an issue to go astray of Bush on, this one would be it.

The most interesting question to me, though, has little to do with Frist’s own ambitions. While it may sound familiar, the question in mind instead looks not just at Leader Frist, but instead at the Republican party as a whole. Could this be indicative of a party wide split from Bush style conservatism? Something I pondered a while ago was that with the weakening of the democrat party, would the vacuum of relative power be significant to propogate the cracks within the Republican Party?

An interesting factor in all of this is the Niger Affair. One of Karl Rove’s bigger internal success was the successful bid to politic off of Christian Morality, and American Pride in the Military, but as his own actions are brought to question in a growing national forum, is it possible that this could taint the entire neoconservative movement?

Anythings possible. Only time will tell. (You can add your cheesy cliche here)

(Note: credit also to Goose3five who helped give legs to not a few of the ideas here and helped make them walk)

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