free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English

reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.

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All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.


free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.

Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Saturday, April 20, 2002

--- An Alternative McCain Alternative ---

The buzz-o-sphere is buzzing (Green (WaMo), Chait (TNR), Kaus, Marshall, Curry (MSNBC)) with talk of McCain 2004 (D). Whatever McCain does to make his next mark on history, that won't be it. Nor will McCain 2004 (I), which would only sew up re-election for his nemesis GWB. Nor McCain 2004 (N), a New Party candidacy as a midcourse maneuver in some historic two-party realignment. Realignment may lie ahead in a post-Enron Progressive environment (see Camp Enron Report), but it's not ripe for execution and the calendar does not wait.

McCain is the lone eagle, the gadfly, not the Lion King. He's an attractive nominee but a dicey candidate ... easy grist for any Rovian attack mill ... and it'd take some fancy dancing to capture the DLC center while buying off the left's legacy quitclaim. McCain's attained age is a problem for this sort of venture, certainly for two full terms, and he has overhanging health (read "Cancer") questions.

McCain might give it the old college try it if he could see how one campaign and one term would break the DC deadlock and create a desirable forward configuration. That means stroking a perfect combination shot to sink the immediate object ball AND set the table for yet another tricky combination shot. A master of the game might attempt such a shot just for show, or just for spite, but nobody plays that parlay for keeps.

Finally and decisively, if McCain really wants to play big, he has a better play on the table ... a play with fewer obstacles, more margin for error, better safeties, more elective tempo, and more immediate results. McCain can control the Senate. Today. McCain allies can take the House. Tomorrow. These moves in turn would lubricate the emerging recoalition of politics writ large -- whatever that turns out to be.

Let's defer the Why and look at the How.

The Senate could not be more narrowly divided. A lone Dem-aligned Indy tilts the balance against the half-vote VP tiebreaker. Disaffected outliers and/or hedge-prone vulnerable incumbents sit in both caucuses. GOP leadership is a laughing stock, weakened further by this week's website fiasco and ANWR massacre. Majority leadership (better, in my book, than either side gives it credit for) is pinned down in defensive positions. Routine business is stalemated, a tsunami of new business looms on the horizon, and both sides are working from dusty post-Cold-War and post-Great-Society playbooks. November elections -- too close to call -- will decide everything ... or leave everything undecided.

In this landscape, a cohesive Spoiler Coalition , playing one wing against the other, can write its own ticket: reorganize the Senate, set the agenda, marginalize the polar extremes, and resettle a bombed-out centrist no-man's land.

The S.C. could be as small as three votes, so long as one of those votes comes from the GOP. (Non-McCain formulations are also possible ... adding impetus for McCain to act preemptively.) McCain carries a unique advantage -- grassroots clout that could decide most of November's tough races. It's not clear that McCain has the option of being "Majority" Leader ... that could depend on pulling votes from one pole or the other ... but he certainly can decide who gets to be Leader.

So McCain and any two Democrats (details elided) can call the tune. Leveraging and bargaining from this base, the S.C. could rapidly integrate its few natural allies, and rope in additional support by virtue of power over committee assignments.

What's the S.C. agenda? Pretty much what GWB's agenda should have been in the wake of 2000's split decision. Govern from the center. Reconcile and move on consensus items. Expose and explore emerging questions -- pushing them into public dialogue -- but don't decide them. By all means steer clear of ideological shibboleths, pending clearer direction from the electorate. Fund R&D, pursue efficiencies, and square up the balance sheet so whoever wins the coming battles of hearts and minds will have something left to work with.

The S.C. is free to take one vital initiative neither major party can afford in the current game of "chicken": rescinding or moderating the scheduled Bush tax cuts.

The judicial confirmation stalemate is a high-tension sticking point. No chip shot here, but with current leadership deposed the S.C. could extract a vital concession from GOP moderates -- acknowledgment that they stiffed Clinton nominees for political/ideological advantage. This simple admission of the obvious would set the table for negotiated settlement along lines already suggested by cooler heads in both camps.

Can Spoilers rule the House? The scenario here is messier, and there's no nuclear figure like McCain ... but there are more than enough pieces in play. Control is narrowly divided and sharply polarized. Centrists are marginalized. GOP moderates chafe under the Hammer. Fiscal conservatives have deep disturbing doubts about where the surplus went. The next election may bring even narrower margins and worse division. A parallel demonstration in the Senate -- and the threat or actuality of McCain's magic touch in swing districts -- puts it in reach.

What comes next? Not unity ... not consensus ... certainly not one-party politics ... but strange and wonderful things. Debate breaks out on debatable issues. Familiar coalitions fracture on multiple pivot-points, and reform on multiple centers. Candidates speak their minds. Pundits enjoy the best days of their lives. And History grinds forward.

Sure, McCain can set himself up to get run down by somebody's campaign juggernaut. Or he can sit stewing and sniping from the margins. Or he can make the big play, kick-start the reformation, and give Bush political indigestion. Yes, it's playing with fire ... but what isn't?